Most everything we do cuts into their territory. We make roads, houses, cities and factories. We plant grass athletic fields, home owner lawns, double flower sterile plants, and we plant large agricultural fields of corn and beans all of which are in essence deserts for them.
We use insecticides targeted for other critters, and sometimes damage them in the process. We even mulch our gardens making it difficult for them to find ground based nesting sites. I can hear them singing the Jim Croce song “Car Wash Blues” and changing some of the lyrics. “I got them steadily depressing low down mind messing ‘I can’t find no pollen’ blues,” says Karl Foord of the U of M Extension service regarding pollinating insects.
Most animals and birds depend on flowering plants for food or shelter. Most plants depend on pollinators to complete their reproduction cycles. This makes pollinators key players in the ecosystem. It should be emphasized that the flowering plant pollinator relationship is one of long standing. Insects were around long before flowering plants. The oldest insect fossils date back to the Carboniferous (360 to 300 million years ago) and exhibit wings and other advanced features which suggests millions of years of evolution before the Carboniferous. There is still discussion about the timing of the origin of flowering plants. The ancestors of flowering plants diverged from gymnosperms in the early Triassic (245-202 million years ago), and fossils of flowering plants are dated to the early Cretaceous (145 to 65 million years ago). Flowering plants diversified during this time and became the dominant plant form in the late Cretaceous (100 to 65 million years ago). Suffice it to say that flowering plants and insects have been interacting intimately for at least 100 million years and have become quite codependent. So pollination is central to the life cycle of flowering plants and more than 80 percent of plant species rely on animal pollinators and 99 percent of those pollinators are insects.
Pollinators are needed for the successful production of as much as 25 percent of everything we eat and drink, and we are rapidly depleting their habitats. Granted much of this pollination is done by the non-native honeybee. We need these native pollinators if for no other reason than help pollinate some of our important crop species as the honeybees face challenges. We are finding that bumblebees are much better pollinators of tomatoes in greenhouse and high tunnel settings than honeybees.
All things considered, I would like to join the ranks of the native pollinator friendly assembly, but what is one to do? Before becoming an advocate, I would like to explore what I could do on my own without having to persuade some government entity that it should create pollinator plant refuges on the highway right of ways. This requires some consideration. The native pollinators are adapted to native plants but will glean pollen and nectar from cultivated species. All of our cultivated plants were adapted from wild ancestors. This leads me to consider two steps.
First, take an inventory of the plants – those closely adjoined to our property and access how pollinator friendly my homestead might be. Second, consider the array of pollinator friendly species and see what might fit within the existing landscape. I will address each in turn.
As far as the home inventory is concerned, I love dwarf evergreens so nothing is there for the pollinators, comments Foord. But he has apples, strawberries and willows as well as significant patches of sedum and thyme. There is a buffer area on his property that is undeveloped and features phlox in the spring and goldenrod in the fall. An adjoining school grassy area is mowed but does not control any weeds so the dandelions do quite well. I have some other plants, but I will need to consider when they flower and how many there are to determine their impact.
As to plants attractive to native pollinators, I looked at lists of the plants and found I had my work cut out for me. When do they flower and for how long? What are their growing requirements and will they be bullies or gentlepersons in their interaction with the other plants in the landscape. You may be able to find some of those plants for our pollinators at the Lyon County Master Gardener Annual Plant Sale from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 8, at Memorial Park, downtown Marshall at corner of Marvin Schwan Drive and 1st Street.
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