By Ana Karla Coudert & Shrive Beck, Extension Master Gardener Interns
Photos © 2019 Elaine Mills
What are pollinators and why are they important to humans? You may have heard that a butterfly is a pollinator, that pollinators flit from flower to flower, and that pollinators are in decline worldwide, but do you know why it matters? Do you know what you can do personally to help pollinators?
A pollinator is an animal that moves pollen (the typically yellow, grain-like substance containing the male genetic material of a flower) to the female parts of the flower. Pollinators include insects such as butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, beetles, and flies, as well as hummingbirds and some bats. (The wind also moves pollen but in a more haphazard way.) The beauty of nature is the mutually beneficial relationship that has developed between a pollinator and the flower. The petals of the flower catch the attention of the pollinator who comes looking for nectar. While it is drinking, pollen sticks to its body. The pollinator moves on to the next flower in search of more nectar and some of the pollen rubs off its body and onto the female parts of the flower. Voila! The flower has now been pollinated.
“Great” you say, “but so what?” This little pollinator has just made it possible for the flower to create a seed that will become a new plant if it is lucky enough to sprout and grow to maturity. Some grain seeds (such as wheat, rice, and corn) that don’t grow into new plants can serve directly as food for humans. Other seeds are surrounded by fleshy coverings or hard surrounds and are eaten by us as fruits, (tomatoes, apples, or squash), nuts, or legumes (beans and peas). Still other seeds sprout to become plants we eat as vegetables in the form of leaves, stems, immature flowers, or roots. The USDA website states that “pollinators… are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take.” A Cornell University study from 2010 states that pollinators contribute $29 billion to U.S. farm income. A decline in pollinators means a decline in your food supply.
So what can you do? Support pollinators in your own back yard—it’s easy. To help guide your plant choices, stop by the patio area at Glencarlyn Library Community Garden to check out our newly revamped pollinator garden. Pick up a colorful informative brochure from our Education Box and use it as a shopping list at your local native plant nursery. Talk to our Extension Master Gardeners. Rip out a 12-by-6-foot strip of your sunny lawn and plant it with the native plants we’ve researched for you, or just add some of these plants to your already established landscape beds. Pollinators require a diverse assortment of hard-working native plants that will provide nectar for them from early spring through late fall as well as nesting habitat for the winter.
How will you benefit? Our recommended native plants are beautiful and will provide you with nine months of bloom and a positively humming insect life for your enjoyment. Most importantly, you will be feeding the pollinators that keep us all fed.
Here the plans used to create the Glencarlyn Pollinator Garden in Spring 2019. To read more about how this garden was created, check out Gardening for Pollinators – A Redesign of the Glencarlyn Pollinator Bed.
- Glencarlyn Pollinator Garden Plant Spreadsheet
- Elevation Plan of Glencarlyn Pollinator Plan
- Glencarlyn Pollinator Garden Plan
- VCE Virginia Master Gardener Handbook, 2015 edition
- US Pollinator Information USDA
- Ramanujan, Krishna. Insect pollinators contribute $29 billion to U.S. farm income. Cornell Chronicle, 2012.