Are you ready for the understatement of the year? OK, brace yourselves…pollinators are important.
Phew, there, I said it.
Numbers vary but it is estimated that pollinating insects are needed for the development of 75% of the world’s flowering plants. Some estimates are as high as 96% (there’s always variation in science but whether it’s 75 or 96%, I think it’s safe to say that it’s a big deal).
“But Marette,” you’re saying, “What about the food we eat?” Excellent question and you’re looking at about 35%. That’s more than a third of our food coming from the buzz and tumble of native and non-native pollinators. Corn, most legumes, below-ground growers (potatoes, carrots, radishes), leafy greens, and a number of other food crops do not need insect pollinator help but rather use the wind or rain to transport pollen.
I’ve been careful to use the word ‘pollinator’ rather than the word ‘bee’. As most of you know, many insects besides bees are excellent pollinators and I wouldn’t want to exclude any of them from our conversation. Bees, moths, wasps, butterflies, flies, and beetles are all important players in the pollination game. A game where every player wins and observers win, too.
Think about it: insects pollinate flowers, the flowers turn into fruit (containing seeds), the fruit is eaten, the seeds are spread, and the cycle continues. Those who eat the fruit aren’t direct players in pollination but they do play a critical role in the survival of the entire ecosystem’s list of species – pollination is but one part of the system (albeit, a fairly important one).
We’ve been seeing an increasing number of pollinators here at Wildflower Farm due to the floral abundance emerging with the rains and warmer temperatures that come with the natural transition from spring to summer. More food brings more hungry patrons to the table.
The Pasque Flowers are almost finished and most have gone to seed but when they were in their glory, it was a pollination riot. Sweat bees, honey bees, ants, and flies took advantage of the nectar and pollen. Female insects are particularly interested in the nutritious early season offerings as they gather nesting supplies.
Right now, the Smooth Solomon’s Seal is a big hit with the bumblebees, flies, honeybees, and some of the smaller bees who crawl right up inside the tiny opening in the flower to get at the nectar and rustle up some pollen.
And to see it in action is even more exciting! Check out this little video compilation from the bumblebees here at Wildflower Farm. Make sure you turn up the sound so you can hear the buzz pollination in action.
Brought to the Americas by early settlers and used as food and remedies for many ailments, most people today will think dandelions are nothing but a nuisance. It’s important to understand, though, that they are an important early food source for a number of small insects.
This small sweat bee rummaged around this dandelion for a good five minutes before shoving off to a neighbouring dandelion.
Butterflies tend to get a lot of credit in the pollination department but, in fact, their pollination skills are limited. Limited by their long tongues and relatively furless bodies, they are sometimes referred to as ‘nectar thieves’ because they do not contribute significantly to pollination.
A Dun Skipper, or Euphyes vestris (to the best of my knowledge) feeds on the nectar from Common Milkweed, New Jersey Tea, and many other white, pink, and purple late spring/summer flowers. Skippers are pretty good pollinators partially due to their flight habits – they tend to bounce around from flower to flower, visiting many in a short amount of time, thereby increasing the likelihood of successful pollination.
And one last pollinator to share with you, the moth. Moths are great pollinators because they are fuzzy and can pick up pollen easily on their bodies. Some plants, like the Evening Primrose NEED moths for pollination because the flowers are open at night when moths are most active.
The morbid owlet moth (Chytolita morbidalis) is not a great moth pollinator – or maybe it is and no one knows about it yet. Turns out, there’s not a lot of information out there on these guys. Moths in general though, because of their furry bodies and shorter mouth pieces, are able to collect and transport pollen better than most butterflies who can reach nectar with long tongues, completely bypassing the pollen.
Pollination is important and protecting our pollinators is more important than ever before. Take some time to learn about the non-bee pollinators in your yard and work towards encouraging their survival and yearly return.
How do you bring around the pollinators? Leave us a comment!