Pollinating the Plants
By Deborah Hill, Park Ranger
What have you eaten today that comes from a plant’s fruit? Perhaps you’ve eaten a blueberry, orange, almond, or bell pepper? Are you enjoying the feel of wearing a cotton t-shirt, jeans or sweatshirt? None of these foods or items would be possible without pollinators, (yes, cotton can self-pollinate, but produces more cotton when pollinated by bees).
When we think of pollinators, we usually think of the honey bee. The honey bee (genus Apis) is a social bee that was brought to the Americas by European colonists in the 1600s. Although scientists found a fossilized honey bee in Nevada, it is thought to belong to an extinct species of honey bee. What was pollinating all the plants in North America before the arrival of the honey bee? All the native pollinators of course! Native pollinators are essential to the success of native plants and wildlife, and we can help them survive and thrive.
What is a pollinator?
A pollinator is an animal that moves pollen from the anther (male part) of one flower to the style (female part) of another flower. This cross-pollination fertilizes plants so it can reproduce through seeds. In addition to seed production being important to the plant, many species of wildlife are dependent on those seeds and fruits, and so are humans.
Who are pollinators?
There is a wide variety of animal pollinators including insects (bees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths), birds and bats, among others. Oregon bats are insectivorous (feed on insects) and aren’t pollinators. However, in other parts of the world they are essential pollinators.
Below are a few of our local native pollinators.
What do pollinators do for us?
According to the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization focused on invertebrate conservation, pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of over 66% of our food crops, and for 85% of flowering plants worldwide. Without pollinators, our food source would be down to wind pollinated grains and meat from animals that feed on wind pollinated plants such as grass. Not only would animals that depend on animal pollinated plants through seeds and fruit suffer, the plant themselves would no longer reproduce. This is of course, a doomsday-type scenario, but it is helpful to entertain this idea to understand just how important pollinators are.
History was made March 2017 when the rusty patched bumblebee was given protection under the Endangered Species Act. It is the first bee to make the list. The US Fish and Wildlife Service can now develop and implement a plan to support this species in making a recovery.
How Can we Help Native Pollinators?
There are simple things we can do with our yards to support native pollinators.
- Plant a variety of native flowering plants: native pollinators prefer native plants.
- Have a variety flower colors: different pollinators are attracted to different colors.
- Have a variety of flower shapes: Pollinators have different shaped mouthparts: hummingbird vs. hoverfly.
- Clump flowers together: clumps of one species are more desirable than scattered plants.
- Have a diversity of plants to flower all season: pollinators are active at different points in the season.
- Create nest sites for pollinators: native bees need a safe place to nest.
- Avoid pesticides.
The next time you are enjoying the results of our hard working pollinators, whether it is a strawberry from a honeybee pollinated plant, or a huckleberry from a native pollinator, take some time to recognize the pollinators that made it happen. Look at the flowers around you and notice who is visiting them and making pollination happen.
Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by the Xerces Society. 2011
Selecting Plants for Pollinators: Pacific Lowland Mixed Forest Province http://www.pollinator.org/PDFs/PacificLowlandrx8.pdf
The Xerces Society. http://xerces.org