Updated: Sep 6, 2020
To recognize how important pollinators are, it is critical to first understand what pollination actually is. Pollination occurs when a pollen grain is moved from the anther, which is the male part of a flower that makes the pollen, to the stigma, which is the female part of the flower that begins the fertilization process once it receives the pollen. This process is where seeds and fruits start to produce, plus new plant growth occurs.
Pollinators include insects and animals such as honey bees and other bee species, butterflies, beetles, wasps, flies, bats, and birds that benefit our ecosystems by helping plants reproduce. These pollinators feed off pollen or drink nectar from flowers and then transfer pollen as they move from plant to plant, thus pollinating other plants. Pollination is therefore beneficial to both pollinators and pollinator plants since the process allows plants to reproduce while providing the pollinator animals and insects with food. For example, pollen provides pollinators with necessary vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats, while nectar is energy-rich, providing pollinators with a source of carbohydrates.
Why are pollinators and pollinator plants so important to our ecosystems?
There are countless reasons why pollinators are so crucial to our ecosystems, environments, and even ourselves. For example, in order for pollinator plants to produce fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, beans, and other crops that humans and animals consume on a daily basis, there is a major dependence on pollinator animals and insects. Pollinator-produced crops also create a balanced ecosystem and food chain, since plant foliage, nuts, and fruits are eaten by herbivores, which are then consumed by predators, and so on. Pollinators are necessary for about 75% of the major food crops that humans consume. These crops are so important to human diet, allowing us to have nutritious fruits, vegetables, and nuts that provide us with a variety of vitamins and minerals. In addition, more than half of the fats, oils, fibers, and raw material available worldwide result from crops which are pollinated by animals and insects.
Besides the important role of pollinators in crop production, they also play a major part in providing safe, healthy, and diverse ecosystems. Pollinator plants often create nesting habitats and shelter that different animal species depend on for survival. Furthermore, when insects and animals pollinate plants, these flowering plants help to prevent soil erosion as a result of their roots keeping soil in place. Adding more pollinator plants to the environment will also help increase carbon sequestration, which is when carbon dioxide is removed or captured from the atmosphere, overall helping to decrease global warming levels.
Growing native pollinator plants in your gardens and landscapes can create beautiful habitats that attract bees, butterflies, birds, and other important pollinating species. In addition, many pollinator plants are both deer resistant and rabbit resistant. Here are some examples of pollinator plants that you can add to your garden:
1. Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) plants are native to central and eastern regions of the United States. This flowering plant is often found growing in open fields and prairies. This plant attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, who feed on the nectar.
2. Bee Balms (Monarda fistulosa), also known as horsemint, oswego tea, and wild bergamot, are a popular addition to gardens, attracting butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. This wildflower is part of the mint family, native to North America. This plant is used for honey, garden ornamental purposes, and is frequently made into tea as a natural medicine for colds and sore throats.
3. Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) is native to North America and often acts as an ornamental plant. This distinctive flower attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds as it is rich in nectar and pollen. It’s a perfect addition for a butterfly garden.
4. Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata) is a flowering plant in the sunflower family, native to North America, specifically areas from North Dakota to Colorado, to California, in addition to areas on British Columbia. Blanket flowers produce bright orange-red colored daisy-like flowers with bright yellow tips. This pollinator plant attracts butterflies.
5. Orange Honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa), also known as western trumpet honeysuckle,are evergreen flowering vines, native to areas of North America such as California, Montana, and Utah, in addition to British Columbia. This flowering plant is added to pollinator gardens due to its sweet-smelling orange blossom flowers. Pollinators like bees and hummingbirds are attracted to fragrant and nectar-rich flowers. The narrow trumpet-like flowers produce orange-red fruit, another feature that attracts birds.
6. Blue Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) is a shrub species native to the Western United States, British Columbia, and also parts of Mexico. When added to gardens, this plant’s flowers attracts pollinators, like hummingbirds and butterflies, who play a role in the plant’s production of berries. These berries are often a food source for animals like birds and chipmunks.
7. Common Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), also called bitter-berry, Virginia bird cherry and western chokecherry, is a large deciduous tree native to several regions of North America such as North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas and Missouri. The tree is also native to regions in Canada from Newfoundland to Saskatchewan. Chokecherry produces fruits such as blue-black cherries which are often used to make jelly. When this plant blooms, it provides a source of nectar for pollinators like butterflies, ants, hummingbirds, honey bees, and flies.
8. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a species of milkweed, is native to eastern and southwestern areas of North America. The plant produces bright orange flowers, and these flowers are nectar-rich and pollen-rich. Butterfly weed attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinator insects during growing seasons.
9. Blue Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) is a flowering plant native to several regions such as the Rocky Mountains, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, and Idaho. The large blue and white fragrant flowers attract pollinators such as hummingbirds and other bird species. This flowering plant is also deer resistant and rabbit resistant, making it a perfect option for home gardens.
10. Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), a sunflower species native to North America, is often added to gardens for its large, bright yellow daisies. This plant is easy to grow and there are several advantages to include this sunflower in gardens. This sunflower species attracts butterflies, birds, and bees, and it is deer resistant and rabbit resistant.
How to Help Pollinators
As a result of harmful pesticide use and wildlife habitat loss, there is a decline in pollinator populations. There are several steps that can be taken in order to protect pollinator populations. This includes using natural alternatives to harmful pesticides, creating gardens with a diverse assortment of flowering plants that attract pollinators, buying local and organic honey and other foods, and overall, spreading the word regarding the important roles that pollinators play and educating on the benefits that pollinators provide to humans, animals, and the environment.