Plants for Pollinators
A lot of attention has been paid to the possible causes of diminishing populations of honeybees in our country. However, bear in mind that honeybees are a European species and NOT native bees, and that there are approximately 450 native bees in Missouri.
By Cindy Gilberg
(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener May 2014 issue.)
A lot of attention has been paid to the possible causes of diminishing populations of honeybees in our country. However, bear in mind that honeybees are a European species and NOT native bees, and that there are approximately 450 native bees in Missouri. In addition to bees, there are some flies, beetles, butterflies, moths and some small birds that provide pollination services. Much of our food sources are from grain crops such as wheat and corn, which are wind-pollinated, as are most grasses and large trees. However, many crops do depend on insect pollinators—imagine our world without the familiar fruits and vegetables. And since most native pollinators are specific to a certain plant, they are much more efficient at pollinating.
In many places, pollinators are at risk from habitat loss, pesticide use and even (in the case of honeybees especially) from introduced diseases and stress. There are a few things that you, as a gardener and land-owner, can do to enhance pollinator habitat in your landscape: provide native flowering plants that bloom at different times of the season, create nest sites, and avoid pesticide use. Early spring-blooming flowers are especially important since native bees/pollinators come out of winter hungry and ready to forage for nectar and pollen.
Most native bees and pollinators tend to be solitary, with each female making her own
underground nest, unlike honeybees, which create large social nests. The native bee female will collect nectar and pollen to provide for her young in the nest. To create appealing nesting sites, leave some areas of the garden or yard untended since that is where most native bees like to nest. Reducing and eliminating the use of pesticides (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) on your property will greatly enhance pollinator habitat and health.
Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to plant a diversity of native plants, from small flowering trees to herbaceous perennials. Include plants that bloom in early spring, such as dogwoods, serviceberry, and native viburnums and some that bloom late, such as the aromatic aster. With a diversity of plants comes not only a stronger ecosystem but a healthier one that provides a diversity of food for various insects and animals. Composite flowers (daisy-type flowers) are always welcome and are available in the genera Aster (Symphiotrichum), Coreopsis, Echinacea and Rudbeckia. Others to include are beardtongue (Penstemon), beebalm (Monarda), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum spp.). Any of the sunflowers (Heliopsis and Helianthus), Silphium and blazing stars (Liatris spp.) are among those that are popular with pollinators. Many herbs are also attractive to pollinators, so always let some of your herbs go to seed (basil, oregano and marjoram, rosemary, sage, and thyme). A diverse planting of natives around your property will also enhance habitat for other beneficial insects that thrive on eating many of our insect “pests,” thus helping to eliminate pesticide use.
When adding butterflies and moths to the list of pollinators, always research which plants are the specific host plants for the butterfly species you are trying to attract. When planting any of these plants, try to group three or more plants together to make them more attractive to the insects.
To learn more, visit the Pollinator Conservation Resource Center at www.xerces.org and the archived articles at the MO Department of Conservation (www.mdc.mo.gov). To find out from whom and where you can purchase native seeds and plants, visit the Grow Native Resource Guide at www.grownative.org. There are also many helpful publications at each website to assist you in your pollinator conservation programs.
Cindy Gilberg was a Missouri native and horticulturist in the St. Louis region. She was a valued contributor to The Gateway Gardener for 10 years, and a tireless promoter of native plant landscaping and sustainable gardening practices in the St. Louis region. She passed away in 2014.