National Pollinator Week
National Pollinator Week, June 22-28, was launched by the Pollinator Partnership 13 years ago to celebrate pollinators and their impact on plants, people and the health of the planet. The Partnership’s mission is “to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education and research.”
Before COVID-19, this week would have been all about in-person group activities around the globe to educate on the importance of pollinators and ways to protect them. But in 2020, the focus is on virtual education and what people can do individually and with social distance to address declining pollinator populations.
Birds, bees, butterflies, bats, beetles, other insects and small mammals can be pollinators. As they transfer pollen from flower to flower, they fertilize female plants and enable production of seeds, nuts and fruits. They ensure the survival of flowering plants and in doing so, the diverse ecosystems on which we humans rely.
In fact, 80% of all flowering plants depend on pollinators for reproduction. Pollinators account for one in every three bites of food we eat. As Pollinator Partnership reports, “in addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.”
Many pollinators are in decline as a result of human activity and policies made without adequate concern for ecological consequences. For example, Monarch butterfly populations have declined drastically since the 1990’s and more than one quarter of all North American bumble bees (28%) are facing some degree of extinction risk. Some of these threats arise from destruction of pollinator habitat from construction of bridges, roads, and other development; decreasing plant biodiversity; clear-cutting natural areas; and pesticide use. Already threatened, pollinators become more susceptible to new pests and diseases.
Taking a look at bees as pollinators illustrates the seriousness of pollinator decline. Bees do most of the insect-based crop pollination. As Maria Spivak, a renowned entomologist and bee expert notes, “if bees don’t have enough to eat, we won’t have enough to eat.” Imagine a world without bee-pollinated foods, like many fruits, nuts, spices and even chocolate!
To thrive, pollinators need a habitat that provides food (flowering plants supplying nectar and pollen), leafy host plants providing food for caterpillars and other larvae, a fresh water source, areas for egg laying and nesting, and areas for sheltering, overwintering, and resting.
What can we, as individuals or families, do to support pollinators in our home landscapes? Plant a pollinator-friendly garden! Key elements include native plants that have evolved to support native pollinators and are suitable for your landscape conditions; flowering trees, shrubs and vines; a selection of plants that bloom throughout the season; plants with different flower shapes, sizes and colors; and enough of each plant species to feed the pollinators.
Resources for planting the right plants in the right place for pollinator gardens abound. The Xerces Society provides a good checklist of actions to promote pollinators in yards and gardens, and the Piedmont Master Gardener website offers numerous resources with lists of native plants for Central Virginia.
Beyond planting a pollinator garden in your landscape, there are a variety of ways to raise awareness of pollinator decline and steps to address the issue. Teach your children or grandchildren about pollinators. Build a bee or bat house. Spread the word to your neighbors, organize a “pollinator corridor” on adjoining properties in your neighborhood, encourage local schools to use the school garden kit provided by Pollinator Partnership or one you create. Learn about Virginia’s Managed Pollinator Protection Plan.
Be informed and speak out on your views of pollinator issues and initiatives.
For Birds, Bees, & Hummingbirds: Creating Inviting Habitats
The Pollinator Victory Garden, Kim Eierman, Quarto Publishing, 2020.
Virginia’s Managed Pollinator Protection Plan
Wild for Pollinators, Kids Gardening.org