Twelve years ago, the US Senate dedicated one week in June as National Pollinator Week. This effort raised awareness of the declining pollinator populations and helped to educate people internationally about the importance of pollinators in the ecosystem.
What are pollinators?
Pollinators are primarily insects like bees, flies, and butterflies, but can also be birds or small mammals. These animals move pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers fertilizing plants as they go. When flowers have been fertilized, they produce seeds surrounded by fruit.
Why do we need them?
Without pollinators, many plants can’t reproduce. And without flowering plants, pollinators would die. In fact, the relationship between pollinators and plants is mutually beneficial. The pollinators provide the plants with the means to reproduce and the plants provide the pollinators with sugary nectar filled with carbohydrates. That would result in a decline in many plant species that provide habitats to animals, ground stabilization, and food resources. In agriculture, plants that have been fertilized through the pollination process produce fruit. We consume many of those fruits – like apples, melon, tomatoes, blueberries, and more as part of our daily diet. Pollinators are responsible for nearly 75% of our major food crops. Their role in both agriculture and landscaping is vital.
What are some examples of pollinators?
There are hundreds of different animal pollinators, but the most common are bees, butterflies, birds, and bats.
Bees are inevitably the most important pollinators. Bees have tiny hairs that pick up pollen when they stop to drink nectar from a flower. Their favorite flowers are typically bright, either yellow or blue, that have places for them to land. Bees can’t see red so if you’re looking to help the bees, avoid this color.
The most beautiful pollinators, butterflies, pollinate the same way bees do. Since their bodies are longer and more slender, they don’t pick up as much pollen are their furry bee friends. They prefer brightly colored flowers that are flat, giving them somewhere to land and rest.
Hummingbirds are not appreciated enough for their hard work. They pick up pollen when they reach their beaks into flowers for nectar. Afterward, their faces and beaks have pollen on them. They gravitate toward red, orange, and white tube-shaped flowers. The more weight the flower can support, the better.
Hummingbirds aren’t the only pollinators that are birds either! In the US, the main bird that pollinates is the hummingbird; however, in Hawaii, it’s honeycreepers, in Australia honeyeaters, and in New Guinea brush-tongued parrots.
How can we attract them?
Most pollinators are attracted to flowering plants that produce lots of nectar like wildflowers and native plants. As they feast on the nectar, granules of pollen stick to their bodies and are transported to the next flower. In order to increase the number of pollinators in your gardens and landscapes, add some of their favorite plants or create a pollinator garden just for them. Some of our favorite plants are Agastache, Asclepias Incarnata, Asclepias Tuberosa, Asters, Echinacea, Helianthus, Joe Pye Weed, and Liatris. Stop by the nursery to pick one out and help some of your local pollinators!