Where Have the Pollinators Gone?
If you’ve followed the news in the past decade, even at a passing glance, you’ve likely heard talk about pollinators. Specifically: the disappearance of millions of insects that, along with birds, help to pollinate the plants and trees that provide food for us all. There simply aren’t as many pollinators around as there once were, and scientists are racing to find out why.
Why it Matters
In order for a plant to make fruit and seeds for future generations, pollen needs to get from one plant to another. Without pollination, fruits and seeds simply don’t happen. While some plants rely on factors such as wind to move this pollen around, many rely on animals. With pollinators like bees, butterflies, and moths on the decline, agriculture begins to suffer. This process is so important that raising pollinators has become a lucrative business, with professional beekeepers loading up tens of thousands of their hives (or hundreds of thousands!) and transporting them to orchards and crops across America each spring.
Scientists have a number of theories as to the diverse causes of this pollinator disappearance, but regardless of the cause, those of us with yards large enough for planting can be part of a solution.
Think of pollinators as your audience. Different types of pollinators like different types of plants, and since every region of the country is a little different (compare Minnesota to Florida, for instance), it takes a little research to figure out what your local pollinators like. Fortunately, the internet has made this easy, and there are countless lists published online that will help you to target your audience.
Great Lakes Plant List from the Xerces Society – Lists the plant, color of flower, size the plant reaches, how much water it needs, and what it attracts
Plants for Minnesota Bees from the U of M Bee Lab – Lists the plant, what type it is (shrub, tree, etc), how much sun it needs, and what sorts of bees are attracted to it
These guides strive to make it as easy as possible to fill our yards and flower beds with appealing, friendly plants that don’t just look good – they do good.
One great benefit of planting wildflowers and other native species is that they require little care or maintenance. After all, they’re native! They grew up in Minnesota, in the climate and conditions of the great plains, and they’ve evolved to be hardy plants. Depending on the needs of the specific plants chosen, they may need a bit more water, and weeding the beds is a good idea to cut down on competition from plants that pollinators won’t find so appealing. But generally speaking, native wildflowers and shrubs will require far less management than more delicate plants, and it’s certainly easier than taking care of a vegetable garden.
Planting pollinator-attracting flowers can be done on a large scale, in expansive gardens and beds, but they can also be kept on a much smaller scale. Many of the flowers can grow tall, so window boxes may not be the best choice, but large pots on decks and patios are the perfect place to keep a small gathering of diverse wildflowers.
It’s important to mention that these plants shouldn’t be treated with herbicides or pesticides. After all, it won’t do much good to hurt the very same pollinators we’re trying to attract! So cutting down on the chemical treatments is a good idea. And again, since these are hardy native plants, they don’t tend to need extra help.
Wildflowers and shrubs can be purchased from a variety of places, but there are some retailers that specialize in naturally-raised native species. This link to the Xerces Society contains a listing of retailers, under the “Native Pollinator Plant Nurseries and Seed Companies” heading.
Give it a try – your local pollinators will thank you!