What's the Buzz about Pollinators?
The last full week of June is named as “National Pollinator Week”. Don’t worry if you missed it - there are reasons to celebrate pollinators all year long!
Pollinators include bees, insects, birds and other animals that move pollen from one flower to another, thereby fertilizing plants and enabling them to reproduce. With food crops, the ripened ovary of a flower becomes a fruit (or vegetable) which we are able to consume. Foods and beverages produced with the help of pollinators include blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, pumpkins, vanilla and almonds. One out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat is delivered to us, thanks to pollinators.
The European honey bee is the primary managed pollinator, brought to the U.S. in the mid-1800’s. The invention of the “bee box” which holds interchangeable wooden, rectangular frames allows for the easy collection of honey and beeswax, as well as safe transport of the bees to provide pollination services. Use of bee boxes led to the widespread business of beekeeping. California-grown almonds, a crop that has blossomed into a multi-billion-dollar industry, is almost entirely dependent upon honeybees for pollination during the short two-week flowering period of almond trees in February.
About 75% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators (other plants are wind-pollinated), and more than 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators, including hummingbirds, bats and small mammals. By far, insects such as beetles, flies, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies and moths do the most work. There are many species of bees on this list, not just the familiar colonial honeybee. Bumblebees are excellent pollinators because their foraging activity vibrates the flowers and shakes pollen loose from the anthers. Bumblebees are used in almost all greenhouse tomato production because of their successful “buzz” pollination technique.
Many people are afraid of bees, but most species of bees don’t sting. Most native bee species are solitary bees that do not live in colonies, and these insects don’t sting unless they are physically threatened or injured. Leave them alone, and they will likely leave you alone.
Numbers of native pollinators are declining - mostly due to habitat loss, including environmental contamination. You can help by creating a backyard that provides nectar, pollen and habitat – the three major requirements of pollinators. Provide a variety of sun-loving plants with differing flower colors, shapes and flowering periods to attract pollinators spring, summer and fall. Native plants are important because these plants have co-evolved with our native pollinators. Provide a water source using birdbaths or other shallow containers, but change the water frequently to avoid creating mosquito-breeding opportunities. Avoid the use of pesticides.
Trees can be great sources of nectar and pollen, too, including flowering fruit trees and shrubs and boulevard trees like honeylocust, lindens and Ohio buckeye. Lindens flower in June-July when you will find the entire tree canopy loaded with bees, collecting nectar that produces wonderfully flavored golden-brown honey.
Pollinators are essential. You can do your part to help keep them buzzing around.
See: NDSU Extension Publication H1811 “Bee-utiful Landscapes, Building a Pollinator Garden”; and other titles relative to North Dakota pollinators.
Photo credit: Jenny Hagemeister, Fessenden
Caption: Busy bumblebee on petunia