Be Kind to Pollinators Week

pollinators weekPerhaps you missed “National Pollinator Week” last week, a U.S. Senate-designated now international celebration that calls attention to declining pollinator populations. What’s a pollinator? Thinking back to fifth grade science class, you may recall that a pollinator is anything that transfers pollen grains from the male part of a flower to the female part of a flower. This is important because without this “pollination”, no fruits or fertile seeds would ever develop.

The main plant pollinators are insects or mammals: bees, birds, butterflies, bats, and beetles-- and the wind. Other pollinators include wasps, flies, moths, and ants. The exact percentage appears to be debatable, but at least half of all flowering plants are dependent on insects or animals for pollination.

The importance of pollinators

By helping plants reproduce, pollinators sustain ecosystems and provide food sources for people and wildlife. Pollinators are considered a “keystone group,” meaning that other plant and animal species depend on them for survival.

Agricultural food crops such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains depend on pollinators. Plant and animal pollinators contribute to more and higher quality yields of these life-sustaining products.

Pollinators assist in the reproduction of cone-bearing plants, such as pine trees, which is an important source of lumber. The production of many other goods such as beverages, spices, fibers and medicines are also dependent on the help of pollinators.

To a pollinator, flowering plants are a food source. In their search for nectar, they are often attracted to certain odors, colors, patterns or shapes. A pollinator may visit a variety of plants on a foraging trip and some specialize in a certain species or species group. 

What can you do to help pollinators thrive?

Protecting the food sources of pollinators is important, as populations are declining worldwide. But you can help right in your own backyard:

  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use.
  • Replace grass with flower beds.
  • Design the garden for a continuous succession of flowering, spring through fall.
  • Plant native species.
  • Select old-fashioned varieties of flowers.
  • Supply water for wildlife and butterflies.

Some native flowering plants, recommended by the University of Maryland Extension Service for the region include:

  • Bee Balm (Bergamot)
    bee balm for pollinators
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
    black-eyed susans for pollinators
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium pupureum)

Focus on functional plants

Edibles and herbs are known as “functional plants” and incorporating them into the flower border can be fun while also being beneficial to pollinators. Herbs are not picky and will thrive even in poor, dry or rocky soil. Mixing edibles and herbs with flowers is a win-win as pollinators will be more likely to visit.

Some herbs and edibles easily tucked into the flower garden include:

  • Vining Beans
  • Elderberries
  • Grapes
  • Oregano
  • Ornamental peppers
    ornamental peppers
  • Purple basil
  • Sage
  • Thyme

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