June 20-26, 2016 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior. It’s a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about their importance and what you can do to protect them.
A pollinator is an animal that moves pollen from one part of the flower of a plant to another. This is an important step in most plants’ ability to make fruit or seeds. Some of the most efficient pollinators are bees, hummingbirds and some kinds of butterflies. They get their food from the flower of the plant and brush up against the different parts of the flower. The pollen then fertilizes the plant. Only fertilized plants can make fruit and/or seeds, and without them, the plants cannot reproduce.
Sometimes wasps, flies and spiders hide in the flowers and spread the pollen, but usually in a less efficient way. Wind and water can also help with pollination by distributing the pollen. Some plants like soybeans do not require pollinators at all.
What happens when there are fewer pollinators in an ecosystem?
Without pollinators, humans and wildlife wouldn’t have much to eat or look at. Wildlife would have less nutritious berries and seeds and humans would miss many fruits, vegetables and nuts, like blueberries, squash, almonds, chocolate and coffee!
South Fork Nature Center has started a Habitat Restoration Program to ensure sufficient foraging/nesting habitat for a particular pollinator, the monarch butterfly. Even though these butterflies are not as efficient as bees in pollinating flowers because of their long skinny legs, they are very active during the day and visit a variety of wildflowers. The Nature Center planted over 500 milkweed plants last summer. The caterpillars of the monarch butterfly feed on the leaves of these milkweed plants. Increasing a food supply for the butterfly is just one Pollinator Friendly Practice that helps protect them.