Co-authored by Sue Reel
Have you heard the buzz about declining pollinators? Biologists fear several butterfly and bumble bee species, including the once common Western Bumble Bee, have disappeared from parts of their range. Why should we care so much about bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds? Pollinators are vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems. They are essential for plant reproduction, and they produce genetic diversity in the plants they pollinate. The more diverse plants are, the better they can weather changes in the environment. Pollinators are also keystone species, which are species upon which others depend. For example, when a bumble bee feeds on the nectar and pollen of huckleberry flowers, it carries pollen from one flower to the next. A fertilized flower then produces fruit that is, in turn, eaten by cedar waxwings, grizzly bears, and dozens of other animals, including humans. Insects and other animals pollinate an astounding one-third of the food we eat, including all kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, and coffee!
Pollinators need our help, and we can do our part by creating pollinator friendly gardens and protecting native wildlife habitat. You can start a pollinator-friendly native plant garden in your backyard, schoolyard, or public park. It’s important to garden with native plants because pollinators have evolved with native plants, which are best adapted to the local growing season, climate, and soils. Most pollinators feed on specific plant species—hummingbirds sip nectar from long, tubular flowers such as honeysuckles, green sweat bees prefer the tiny ray flowers of sunflowers, and the pickiest pollinator of all, the yucca moth, feeds and nests only on yucca plants. Find out which plants are native to your area by contacting your native plant society or county extension office. Even small backyard gardens can contribute significantly to the maintenance of important habitats for wildlife. And gardening connects us to nature and helps us better understand and value natural systems.
You can also help scientists and pollinators, especially bees, by contributing observations to projects like the Great Sunflower Project (http://www.greatsunflower.org/). By watching and recording the bees at sunflowers in your garden, you can help scientists understand the challenges that bees are facing. Meanwhile, grow a few pollinator-friendly native plants in your garden and watch what happens. You might just get hooked on pollinators.