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The Buzz on Pollinators

By Ryan McClintock, NRCS Wildlife Biologist ♦ April 2020

The next time you eat an apple, consider cutting it in half first across the middle. There is essentially a compartment resembling a star that contains the seeds of the apple. If there are 2 seeds in each of the 5 compartments for a total of 10 seeds then that apple was fully pollinated. Flowers of an apple that are not fully pollinated may reduce their overall productivity, and a flower that gets no pollination will never develop into an apple for you to enjoy. It is estimated that approximately 75% of the worlds flowering plants require pollination, including the plants that provide us food, by insects and animals that include but are not limited to bees, butterflies, moths, birds, beetles, wasps, and even bats to move pollen from one plant to the next for that plant to produce seed necessary for reproduction. These pollinators play a vital role in our everyday lives and are often underappreciated or overlooked.

Bumble bee foraging on white pricklypoppy.

These pollinating insects and animals are facing many challenges today such as habitat loss from fragmentation, pesticide use, and invasive species to name a few. Pollinators require a diverse landscape with a variety of flowering plants. These plants have many different colors, shapes, and sizes of flowers to accommodate the specific needs of the many different types of pollinating insects and animals. The flowers almost act as landing pads for these pollinators to access the nectar or food source that is provided by the plant and in turn the pollen is transferred to the pollinators and then moved to the next plant for the reproduction process to be successful. So, what can we do on the landscape to benefit the threats that pollinators are facing every day?

No matter how small or large of an area you are working with, a plan can be developed to encourage healthy and productive pollinator habitat. Consider planting a diverse native seed mix of locally adapted plants to the area for best results of plant establishment. Planting times should be late winter to an early spring timeframe for best results. Within this seed mix it is recommended to provide 3 or more flowering plants per bloom period that should overlap spring, summer, and fall time frames.

It is also recommended to include native grass species in pollinator seed mixes. These grasses can be host plants for some butterflies, provide for wintering sites of many insects, and protect the soil from erosion. Some bare ground interspersed within your pollinator planting area is not a bad thing as many species of native bees are solitary ground nesters that utilize these sparsely vegetated areas to nest. Also consider the spacing of your pollinator areas. Bees and other pollinating animals vary in sizes and can only travel certain distances to find food. These ranges can vary from just a couple hundred feet up to a mile. For more information or to develop a plan for pollinator habitat creation contact your local NRCS office.