Pollination results when the pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) is moved to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma) and fertilizes it, resulting in the production of fruits and seeds. Some flowers rely on the wind to move pollen; others on animals.
About 75 percent of all flowering plants rely on pollinators for fertilization and more than 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. Of those, about 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats and other small animals. The majority of pollinators are insects, such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies and moths.
Pollinators visit flowers in search of food, shelter and nest-building materials. Bees intentionally collect pollen, while butterflies and birds move pollen because it sticks on their body while they are collecting nectar from flowers.
Without the assistance of pollinators, most plants cannot produce fruits and seeds. The fruits and seeds of flowering plants are important food for people and wildlife. The seeds that are not eaten will eventually produce new plants, helping to maintain the plant population.
More than 150 food crops in the United States depend on pollinators, including strawberries blueberries, apples, oranges, melons, peaches squash, tomatoes pumpkins and almonds. Worldwide, approximately 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices and medicines need to be pollinated by animals.
Despite their importance to our economy and our lives, many pollinators are in trouble. Domesticated honeybees, (Apis mellifera), nonnative bees raised specifically to pollinate crops, are declining. Causes include parasitic mites, disease, pesticide poisoning, encroachment of Africanized honeybees and a phenomenon, colony collapse disorder, where worker bees leave the hive in search of nectar and do not return.
The main threat facing wild pollinators is loss of habitats. Homes, businesses, roads, manicured lawns, crops and nonnative gardens are replacing the native fields, wetlands and forests that are home to many pollinators. In addition, many of the wildflowers used by pollinators for food, nesting or egg-laying are rapidly disappearing.
Migratory pollinators such as bats, butterflies and hummingbirds face special challenges. These travelers need nectar-producing flowers all along their journeys. If the distance between the suitable habitat patches along their migration route is too great, these pollinators may not survive their migration.
The improper use of pesticides also impacts pollinators and their habitats. Many pesticides used on farms and backyard gardens are broad-spectrum types, meaning they can harm non-target species, too. Insecticides that get rid of plant pests can also be toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.
One way to help pollinators is to put in a garden using native flowering plants. Choose a variety of colors and shapes that will attract different pollinators. Plant in clumps rather than single plants to better attract pollinators.
Hummingbirds are attracted to scarlet, orange, red or white tubular-shaped flowers with no distinct odors. Bees are attracted to bright white, yellow or blue flowers. Butterflies are attracted to bright red and purple flowers with a faint but fresh odor. Beetles are attracted to white or green flowers with odors ranging from none to strongly fruity.
Flies are attracted to green, white or cream flowers with little odor or dark brown and purple flowers.
Go to http://pollinator.org and type in your zip code. You'll get information about pollinators in your area plus a list of the plants they use. People can also download a free app to get this same information on their smart phones.
Avoid or limit pesticide use. Expect and accept a little bit of pest activity. Try removing pests by hand (wearing garden gloves). If you must use a pesticide, choose one that is the least toxic to non-pest species and does not persist on vegetation, then apply it in the evening when most pollinators are not as active.
For information about reducing risks to pollinators when trying to control pests, visit www.fws.gov/pollinators.
Pollinator Week is that June 17-23. Visit www.pollinator.org for information about events, activities and resources.