Have you spotted many butterflies this year? What about bees? Unfortunately, these pollinators are in trouble. Pollinators move from plant to plant while searching for protein-rich pollen or high-energy nectar to eat. As they go, they are dusted by pollen and move it to the next flower, fertilizing the plant and allowing it to reproduce and form seeds, berries, fruits and other plant foods that form the foundation of the food chain for other species—including humans. Pollination is vital to the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink.
Bees are the most obvious and recognized pollinators in nature. It came as a surprise to me that over 100,000 invertebrates also pollinate. These include butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles and even flies! Hummingbirds are among a thousand birds, mammals and reptiles also helping pollinate.
You can help be pollinator hero in many ways. Here are three easy ways to start.
- First, and perhaps the most obvious is through plants. Whether you’re a gardening novice with a small balcony or gardening veteran with a few acres; you may be able to help wildlife in your area. It is easy to plant varieties that will attract pollinators. For example, start with native plants. Native plants form the foundation of habitat for pollinators by providing them with pollen and nectar for food, cover from the elements and predators, and places where their young can grow. The best way to attract beautiful butterflies, busy bees, speedy hummingbirds and other pollinators is to fill your yard with native plants. There are some free resources to help at the end of this post.
- Avoiding pesticides is not only good for you, your family and pets it is the second great way to help pollinators. Bees are our most important pollinators, and they are insects. So are butterflies like the monarch. Using insecticides will kill these insects. Herbicides will kill important native plants such as milkweed that pollinators rely upon as a food source and a place to raise young. Make the commitment to avoid using chemicals and to maintain your garden in a natural, organic way. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has ten times more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are creating a healthier place for your family and community.
- The third easy step is to help protect our grasslands to aid pollinators. America’s native grasslands are critically important for pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies. Our grasslands are filled with native plants that offer nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and a wide variety of pollinators. They also provide milkweed, the only host plant for monarch caterpillars. Today, more than 90 percent of native grasslands have been converted to cropland and development. Grasslands are disappearing faster than any other ecosystem in North America, and that’s a big problem for pollinators. Spreading the word through social media and helping educate others is a great way to be a pollinator hero. Planting milkweed to attract butterflies will give you enjoyment as you help pollinators.
Businesses and community groups can get involved in this effort to help pollinators. One nonprofit in Saint Louis is working to provide a living landscape for birds and other wild animals. The Animal Protective Association of Missouri or APA is part of the growing trend to garden for wildlife.
APA Executive Director Steve Kaufman is working with the Saint Louis Audubon Society to create landscaping to encourage wildlife and benefit the ecosystem surrounding the adoption center: “The APA cares for all animals, not just the ones brought into our facility for direct care. This is just a small way to do our part to help the native Missouri animals that live in our area (or fly through!).”
The Missouri Botanical Gardens offers many free resources online to help with native gardens. You can find them by clicking on A Guide to Native Landscaping in Missouri or following this link: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/visit/family-of-attractions/shaw-nature-reserve/gardens-gardening-at-shaw-nature-reserve/native-landscaping-for-the-home-gardener/native-landscaping-manual.aspx
A national native online plant guide can be accessed by clicking on American Beauty Native Plants or following this link: http://www.abnativeplants.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/plants.search/index.htm?announcementid8429382
The National Federation for Wildlife or NWF offers many free resources for gardening to benefit pollinators and wildlife. The NWF is joining with dozens of conservation and gardening organizations as well as seed groups to form the National Pollinator Garden Network. To mark the occasion there is a new nationwide campaign – the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. You can take part in the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge by turning your yard or garden into a Certified Wildlife Habitat via National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program. It’s as simple as providing food, water, cover and places to raise young for pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. You can learn more at www.nwf.org.