Garden Variety: Celebrate National Pollinator Week with friendly gardens
Kansas and at least 44 other states are celebrating National Pollinator Week next week, June 18-24, by proclamation of their governors. The event is organized by the non-profit organization Pollinator Partnership and is described by the group as a week to celebrate bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.
Pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you eat, according to the USDA Forest Service’s website. Animal pollinators (mostly insects) are the most common and are credited with pollinating about 80 percent of flowering plants worldwide.
How does pollination tie in with food? Pollination is the transfer of pollen from male flower parts to female flower parts. That transfer is necessary for fertilization and seed production. Seeds of wheat, corn and other crops are grains that are heavily used in our food supply. Beans, nuts and many other seeds are consumed in seed form.
Seed production also leads to the formation of fruit. The tastiest parts of fruits like apples, peaches, cherries, etc., are produced by plants to protect seeds during development and help the seeds move to new places. Melons, squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants and other vegetables are fruits by this botanical definition and rely on pollination.
Bees and butterflies are the most visible pollinators, but many species of ants, beetles, flies, moths, wasps and other small insects are pollinators. Other animal pollinators include birds, bats, lizards, rodents, slugs and others.
Pollinator is a general term used to describe something that pollinates flowers. Besides animal pollinators, wind and water pollinate certain species of plants. A few plant species can self-pollinate.
Experts report that animal pollinator populations are declining worldwide. That is why the Pollinator Partnership and organizations like it, including Monarch Watch here in Lawrence, are working to inform and educate people about the importance of pollinators.
Most experts agree that animal pollinator population decline is the result of a combination of factors, especially since so many different species are involved. One big factor is the loss of habitat due to development.
The greatest way to help pollinators and celebrate National Pollinator Week is to add pollinator habitat to your landscape or garden. Choose native plants when possible, and select species that provide nectar for insects as well as food for their larvae. Monarch Watch has information about gardening and lists of recommended plants at monarchwatch.org/garden. Pollinator Partnership has recommendations at pollinator.org/guides.
In addition to planting pollinator habitat, the Pollinator Partnership suggests celebrating the week by hosting a pollinator-themed meal; organizing a pollinator planting day at your school, office, etc.; building and installing bee houses; and taking time to learn more about pollinators by watching documentaries or reading about pollinators.
Other ways to help pollinators are to support local bees by purchasing honey and honey products from local beekeepers and supporting organizations that support pollinators and pollinator research.
The Pollinator Partnership’s mission is to protect and promote pollinators and their ecosystems.
— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.