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Pollinators

Did you know that bananas are pollinated by bats? This is one of the curiosities that Mark Adams uncovered while preparing a lecture on pollinators for National Pollinator Week. Here are a few more:

• Honeybees are not native to North America.

• Honeybees live about six weeks in the summer, and each one makes one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime.

• Native bees, including carpenter bees and mason bees, forage only a few yards from their hives, whereas honeybees will travel up to two miles.

• Some early spring wildflowers are pollinated by flies because they bloom before bees are active. The cacao tree, our source of chocolate, is pollinated exclusively by flies.

• Butterflies and hummingbirds are pollinators of flowers with deep throats that bees can’t reach, including cuphea, honeysuckle, monarda (bee balm) and asclepias (butterfly weed).

• Commercial beekeepers move honeybee hives around the country to pollinate large areas of crops grown in monoculture, including almonds, melons and apples. Since these crops only bloom over a short period, permanent hives cannot be established.

• Bumblebees are introduced to pollinate crops grown in greenhouses, including tomatoes, cucumbers and raspberries.

• Butterfly larvae (caterpillars) usually feed on one type of plant; For example, monarchs feeding on milkweed, black swallowtails on carrots and karner blues on lupines.

• Major crops that do not depend on insects for pollination include soybeans, which are self-pollinated, and wheat, rice and corn, which are pollinated by wind. Note that these plants do not need to produce nectar required to attract pollinators, driving their energy toward seed production.

ATTRACTING POLLINATORS TO THE GARDEN:

• Diversify the garden to produce flowers from early spring to late fall. Also, encourage wildflowers to grow in hedgerows and even in your lawn, although it should be noted that neither dandelions or clover are native wildflowers.

• Butterflies are attracted to red and orange. Red salvia, penstemon, butterfly weed and butterfly bush (although the blossoms are usually purple) are good choices.

• Butterflies, and probably bees as well, need a source of water in or near the garden.

• Flat stones placed in the sunlight will allow butterflies to spread their wings early in the morning.

• Caterpillar foods are a good idea. Milkweed or anything in the milkweed family is crucial for monarchs, which are being threatened by loss of habitat.

• Drill holes in fence posts with a 5/16 inch bit to attract native mason bees, which nest in the holes. They also need a source of mud to pack their nests. You can even buy mason bee mud online.

• Hummingbirds are pollinators, although not as efficient as bees. Flowers with long peduncles (tubes) like monarda, tritoma, honeysuckle and especially cuphea are famous for attracting hummingbirds.

• Apple mint – for some reason, apple mint blossoms attract a wide variety of bee and fly pollinators, including species (digger wasps!) rarely seen elsewhere.

• Do not use pesticides in the garden, or at the very least, read the label carefully to keep from harming pollinators. Even some organic pesticides (pyrethrins, for example) are harmful to bees.

Go to Gardening Information →

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