Pollinators are vital to human kind. They are under threat and their populations are declining, almost certainly due to a combination of loss of their habitats and an increase in diseases they suffer.
The US Senate designated a National Pollinator week in 2007 to help remind us how important it is to take action to protect and enable pollinators and their work.
According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, pollinators pollinate over 75% of our flowering plants and crops, including fruits, vegetables and nuts. In the US honey bees directly or indirectly contributed some $19 billion worth of crops in 2010, with other pollinators contribution another $10 billion.
Without them global food production would plummet and be severely restricted in diversity, and with it we’d lose a serious economic driver that secures jobs and trade around the world.
IT’S MORE THAN JUST BEES
While bees are the iconic symbols of pollinators, and or course honey bees produce the honey so many of us enjoy, many other creatures do a similar job. Hummingbirds, bats, beetles, butterflies, and flies also carry pollen from flower to flower, which enables plants to be fertilized and produce seeds.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
We all have a role to play in helping protect and promote the work of pollinators of all kinds. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has a wealth of information and resources, and a summary of their advice includes simple things we can all do like:
- Choosing plants that flower at different times of the year, with different color and shapes, and preferably native to your area. Then plant them in clumps rather than singly. This helps attract pollinators, and more of them, while providing them with food for a longer period of time over the year.
- Planting milkweed if you can, which is especially important for supporting threatened Monarch Butterfly populations. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, but this wild plant has been radically reduced in wild areas due to expanding agriculture and pesticide drift.
- Avoiding non-native invasive plants, as these will crowd out the native plants our pollinators need for their food and shelter.
- Taking extreme care with garden chemicals and avoiding them wherever possible. Encourage beneficial wildlife in your garden instead to help keep pests at bay.
- Not bee-ing too tidy (get it?). Pollinators need nesting sites and shelter to thrive. This could be in trees, on plants, in dry wood or plant stems or in the ground. Leaving some undisturbed areas in your garden, pruning sensitively or providing artificial nest sites like bee blocks will help attract a range of pollinators to come and stay.
- A handy table by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) can help you choose plants with the color and shape that will attract different kinds of pollinators.
- The Plant Native campaign produces a very helpful guide to native plants here in Maine. The New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS) produces a guide that includes invasive plants to avoid invasive plants. NEWFS also has great online Plant identification tools – one for gardeners and one for botany experts.
- The Monarch Joint Venture campaign produces a guide to choosing the correct type of milkweed for your area to help Monarchs get just what they need.
- The NAPPC produces a guide to pollinator friendly practices and one on ways to avoid using pesticides.