Pollination: What’s all the buzz about?

It is National Pollinator Week!

We at Crown Point Ecology Center are committed to become a model of habitat management practices that help pollinator species thrive. With the help of students from Our Lady of the Elms, we have expanded our pollinator-friendly flower gardens and crops. Support from the USDA NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Programs) is helping us increase habitat for the Monarch butterfly with milkweed plantings and other pollinators with mixed cover crops and pollinator gardens.

Thank you to everyone who donated to our pollinator initiative during our plant sale. With your financial support we have purchased two bee-hives and equipment for our interns to learn bee-keeping. And did you visit the Mustard Seed Market and Café Project Pollinator event last weekend to pick up some milkweed seedlings like those pictured here?  We truly appreciate all the partnerships in our community that help support birds and bees. According to second-generation Mustard Seed owner, Gabe Nabors: “Experts say 1 in every 3 bites of food depends on bees. Let’s save them!”

The relationship between plants and pollinators is quite simple, animals get food and plants get pollinated.  The tiny hummingbird is small enough to hover while feeding and the rich sugar nectar it feeds on supports the high metabolism needed for the hovering.  Bird friendly plants have marketed themselves as pro-bird and anti-bee with brightly colored but unscented flowers. Bees on the other hand, go for the perfume but don’t see the colors that well.

Butterflies, unlike bees, can see the color red. The social butterfly problem turns out to be a good thing, their continual flitting from flower to flower more than make up for the quantity of pollen they carry. The pro-insect camp of flowers has developed adaptations to charge the insects for the nectar, small stigmas and stamens located on the interiors of the flowers, so that pollen can stick on the back of pollinators as they brush against the anthers. Many pollinators are very picky for certain flowers (Monarch butterfly)  and some will eat anything and everything .  Certain flowers only invite specific pollinators while others invite everybody.  Simple needs for food and reproduction create a complicated and interesting evolutionary love affair.

Pollination is one of the most important ecological services provided to agriculture.  Increasing the diversity of the habitat for pollinators is critical.  Diversified plant habitats promote diversified bird and insect populations that prevent one species from becoming overly dominant and a pest.  Honey bee populations have declined significantly over the last 5 years and so have native bees and other pollinator species. Management and protection of wild, suburban and urban habitats and their populations of pollen-vectoring animals and nectar-producing plants will benefit not just our wild and native plants but is essential for the production of food from our crops.

So, if you need to eat to stay alive, please become a pollinator advocate.

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