by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, LLCC Value Added Local Foods program
Have you thanked a pollinator today? Coffee to start the day, an apple to keep the doctor away, almonds to energize through exercise – chances are likely that at each meal you eat something whose growth is owed to a pollinator.
An assessment of 3,000 scientific publications shared this year concludes that 90 percent of flowering plants and 75 percent of crops depend at least to some extent on animal pollination and that a high diversity of wild pollinators is critical to pollination even when managed bees are present in high numbers. Abundant and healthy populations of pollinators can improve fruit set and quality, and increase fruit size. Beyond food and flowers, pollinators benefit humans through direct contribution to medicines, biofuels, fibers such as cotton and linen, construction materials (various tree species), and arts and crafts.
Pollination occurs when animals such as bees, butterflies, moths, flies and hummingbirds travel to a plant for food, the sticky pollen or a sweet nectar made at the base of the petals. When feeding, the pollen sticks to the animals as they rub against the stamens. When they move to another flower to feed, some of the pollen can rub off onto this new plant’s stigma allowing the plant to reproduce. A single flower may need multiple pollinator visits to ensure that it will produce full-bodied fruit and a full set of seeds capable of producing new plants of that species.
Research across the globe has shown for many years that pollinator populations are on the decline, both in numbers and in species, owing to a range of environmental pressures. Given the significant responsibility of maintaining a rich diversity of plant species and a large portion of our food supply, it’s no wonder pollinators need everyone’s help. More than that, the bees remind us to have a strong work ethic, but to take time to smell the flowers. They show us how to live and work in community for the benefit of all. While butterflies teach us to endure personal transformations with grace and lightness. We can all gain from pollinator wisdom.
Homeowners can assist pollinator populations by providing an attractive habitat. Native plants are the heart of a pollinator friendly garden. Becky Croteau, professor of biology at LLCC, says, “Some of my favorite natives that can be planted in the fall are serviceberry bush, any of the milkweeds and other prairie species.” Pollinators have evolved with native plants, which are best adapted to the local growing season, climate and soils. Planting natives in your yard will supply pollinators with the nutrition they need to thrive. And as a bonus for the gardener, plants that are indigenous to a specific region usually require little maintenance. Most pollinators feed on specific plant species – hummingbirds sip nectar from long, tubular flowers, butterflies land on a wide pad, while bees are attracted to white, yellow or blue flowers. Choosing the right plants to attract your desired species takes a little consideration.
Jennifer Fishburn, horticulture educator, with the University of Illinois Extension notes the difficulty in identifying just a few perennials, shrubs or trees to plant this fall due to the long list of possibilities, but she shares the following ideas for the planning process of growing for pollinators: “Plant for a succession of blooms March through October. Plant multiples of each species. Plant a diversity of flowering species with plentiful amounts of pollen and nectar. Limit pesticide use and read all pesticide labels before using.”
And don’t forget to take time to smell the flowers.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Value-Added Local Food, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.