National Pollinator Week is a week in June when organizations, communities, and individuals come together to celebrate the importance of pollinators to agriculture and the ecosystem. Some of the most significant pollinators are insects, including bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and beetles. The recent decline of the domesticated honeybee population has brought much-needed attention to the vital role pollinators play and how people can help populations thrive.
One way to help both domesticated and native pollinators is to create a pollinator garden. Here are some tips from the Pollinator Partnership on creating a good pollinator garden:
- Use a variety of different plants to support different pollinators throughout the season. Choose plants with various flower shapes, colors, and scents, as well as different heights and bloom times. Native plants tend to be lower-maintenance and attract native species, but non-invasive non-natives can also be beneficial.
- Create areas in the garden where insects can shelter. Again, variety is key: trees, shrubs, dead leaf piles, hollow stems, and bare, sandy patches all accommodate different insects at different developmental stages.
- If you are not near a natural source of fresh water, consider placing birdbaths, ponds, or pools to provide pollinators with a safe place to drink.
- Minimize or eliminate the use of pesticides.
A May visit to a suburban Maryland pollinator garden provided sightings of a number of native pollinators. Here are a few:
Bumblebees: With their distinctive fuzzy black-and-yellow bodies, bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are a common sight in gardens. Like honeybees, bumblebees are social insects that feed on nectar and collect nectar and pollen to bring back to their nest. While they are not widely used for honey production, they are increasingly being used as agricultural pollinators, especially for tomatoes.
Solitary bees: As their name implies, solitary bees do not live in a communal nest with a caste system. Each female builds her own nest consisting of one or more cells, in which she lays her eggs. The “solitary bees” are comprised of several different families; some nest in soil burrows while others build nests in rotting wood or hollow plant stems. Some species specialize on one or just a few closely related plant species.
Hoverflies: Hoverflies, also known as flower flies, are members of the family Syrphidae. The adults feed largely on nectar and pollen, and many have black-and-yellow markings that allow them to mimic bees or wasps and avoid predation. They are important pollinators, with some species being generalists and others visiting only a single plant species.
Butterflies: Butterflies pick up pollen while feeding on nectar, and their long tongues can even reach into long-necked flowers. Butterflies are attracted to brightly colored clusters of flowers, preferably with suitable space to land and maneuver. If you want to attract butterflies to your garden, don’t forget to include the plants on which the caterpillars feed, which often differ from the plants that appeal to adult butterflies.
Hummingbird moth: With their rapid wing motion and ability to hover in front of a flower, hummingbird moths (Hemaris sp.) are easily mistaken for their namesake, hummingbirds! They have a plump body and a fan at the end of their abdomen. Like butterflies, hummingbird moths have a long tongue that they can unroll and insert into long-necked flowers.
Soldier Beetles: The Pennsylvania leatherwing (or goldenrod soldier beetle) is a species of solider beetle that somewhat resembles its close relatives, the lightning bugs. They are a welcome sight in most gardens: not only are they pollinators, but they also feed on aphids, which are notorious garden pests.
Erin K. Kolski, Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
Sources: Pollinator Partnership (http://pollinator.org/npw_gardens.htm)
USDA Forest Service (http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/index.shtml)
All photos: Erin Kolski (unless otherwise noted.)