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The Forgotten Pollinators
The Forgotten Pollinators
Published by Porterbrook
Default The Forgotten Pollinators


Frank W. Porter
Porterbrook Native Plants

Winter has loosened its grip on us—just a little. And there have been glimmers of the Spring to come. Many of us are already getting restless, hankering to get outside and start gardening. As I walk through the gardens, I look for any signs of new growth or damage to the plants. I am always amazed to see green buds on plants that only a week ago were covered by snow and ice. Then I remember that snow is Mother Nature’s blanket.

As we look forward to the new year of gardening, it is time to think about all of the pollinators that make possible the flowers, seeds, and harvest we so much enjoy. Pollinators tend to be one of the gardening experiences we so often overlook. In fact, many gardeners unaware of their importance spray pesticides and herbicides with reckless abandon which eliminate both beneficial and harmful insects and animals.

The time has come to begin gardening for pollinators. There are simple and inexpensive things you can do to increase the number and diversity of pollinators living on your land. You need to become familiar with the different habitats on your property that shelter and support pollinators. Once you have identified where these pollinators are foraging and living, you need to take the necessary steps to protect them from disturbance and pesticides.

Because many home landscapes do not offer these natural habitats, each of us must provide new habitats by planting flowering plants and creating new nesting sites. Using native plants is essential to the successful introduction of these pollinators. Most native plants have specific insects or animals that can pollinate their flowers. Without these pollinators you may be able to enjoy the blossoms, but there will be no viable seeds at the end of the growing season. And without viable seeds, the continued presence of these species is lessened each year.

Plants must have insects to exist. Humans also must have insects to exist. Approximately eighty percent of the different plant species worldwide depend on pollination by animals (most of which are insects). Sadly, the population of wild pollinators is declining around the world, because of loss of habitat and the rampant use of pesticides and herbicides.

Vast numbers of insect species are needed to pollinate these plants. What we have only recently begun to understand is that a specific relationship has evolved between these plants and their special pollinators. The shapes and colors of each species of flowering plant, their unique scent, the location of the flower on the stalk, the time of the season and daily schedule of the availability of pollen and nectar are adapted exactly to attract particular species of insects. When this unique relationship is disrupted or destroyed, both plants and their pollinators face extinction.

Native bees are one of our most important pollinators. Like all pollinators, native bees have critical requirements. Bees eat only pollen and nectar. While gathering these food resources, they move pollen from one flower to another; and in the process, they pollinate the plants. Native bees depend on an abundance of and a variety of flowers. Furthermore, they must have access to flowering plants throughout the growing season. Creating gardens with native plants is essential to the survival of native bees.

Native bees, unlike honey bees or wasps, do not build wax or paper structures. Nevertheless, they still require places to nest. Wood-nesting bees tend to be solitary, and frequently build nests in the twigs or beetle tunnels found in dead trees. Ground-nesting bees construct their nests in tunnels under bare earth. And cavity-nesting species, such as the bumble bee, occupy small spaces such as abandoned rodent burrows.

To ensure the survival of all pollinators, no pesticides should be used. Almost all insecticides are deadly to native bees. Equally important, the use of herbicides kills many of the flowering plants necessary to the survival of all pollinators.

What can you do? Keep tillage of your gardens to a bare minimum. Many of the nests of pollinators are underground. Once the soil has been overturned, you have inadvertently destroyed these nests. Provide a wide range of native plants to satisfy the food requirement of pollinators throughout the growing season. One way to ensure a successful harvest from your vegetable garden is to interplant native wildflowers. Their blooms will attract a wide range of pollinators who will eat harmful insects and pollinate the flowers. You can also create marginal areas near the gardens, plant hedgerows, and windbreaks with a variety of native flowering plants which will attract pollinators and provide them with shelter.

Creating a native plant garden may not conserve entire populations or species of threatened or endangered pollinators and plants. However, undertaking such an endeavor can remind us of the importance of butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, ants, wasps and many other insects. “One butterfly or one wildflower does not an ecosystem make,” cautions one naturalist. “Nature’s rich complement of butterflies and flowers and other organisms and their myriad, evolved relationships can only survive if the diversity of the natural habitat is preserved.” It is time to take a step in that direction.

This article was first published by the Marietta Register
By Staff on 10-12-2009, 03:03 PM

The Forgotten Pollinators seem to have been forgotten.

Beautiful article Porterbrook.
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By biigblueyes on 10-12-2009, 03:17 PM

We have quite a few people here who adore pollinators.

I'm curious about the pollinators that nest underground. What are some of the ground-nesting pollinators?
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By NEBogger on 10-12-2009, 06:39 PM

The lack of bees has had us concerned for several years. Ariel spraying has done so much damage, IMHO.
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By amelanchier on 10-12-2009, 06:56 PM

It's amazing how planting native plants attracts the pollinators. This year the garden was mobbed with bees & other flying insects of all descriptions, and I found a bunch out there even today with freezing temperatures just around the corner. I've never been stung by a bee or wasp and was therefore a little nervous about working out there with them all flying around, but it hasn't been a problem.
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By Porterbrook on 10-12-2009, 10:11 PM

There can be no better proof of the value of planting native species than to see the increase in the number of pollinators that begin to visit your garden. Last year, I installed prairie species along a walkway leading to the greenhouses. No sooner did the plants begin to bloom than native bumble bees, wasps, and hornets began to frequent the plants. In the evenings, it looked like an aerial display not only in the garden beds but in the yard also. When we are choosing to use native plants in our gardens and landscape, we must also remember that these native pollinators play an equally important role. In the end, we all benefit. And, Amelanchier, I was not stung once even when weeding or mulching around the plants!
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forgotten, pollinators

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