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. 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 be a 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 your family and pets, it is the second great way to help pollinators. Using insecticides will kill many pollinators. 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. 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 non-profit in Saint Louis is working to provide a living landscape for birds and other wild animals. The Animal Protective Association of Missouri or APA Adoption Center is part of the growing trend to garden for wildlife in landscaping as a way to care for wildlife as well as the pets brought to the facility.
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
A national native online plant guide can be accessed by clicking on American Beauty Native Plants.
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. Spreading the word through social media and helping educate others is a great way to be a pollinator hero too.