POLLINATORS

Home gardens have a tremendous amount of potential for fostering pollinator habitats and ensuring the health, safety and existence of future populations of pollinator species.

WHY ARE POLLINATORS IMPORTANT?

It is estimated that about 90 percent of wild flowering plants depend on biotic pollination, such as that provided by bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, birds, bats and many other animals. Beyond that, approximately 100 different food crops produced in the United State depend primarily on biotic pollination; similarly, 25 percent of birds and some mammals also depend on the fruit and seed provided by flowering plants. Animal pollinators carry pollen on their bodies while traveling from one plant to another, a more efficient way for the plant to get fertilized (compared to wind pollination, where many pollen grains are lost in transit and do not make it to their intended destinations).

Hummingbird on turks-cap

This buff-bellied hummingbird needs flowers like those on turkscap for nectar, and turkscap needs birds and insects for pollination. Image credit: Shutterstock/kenhartlein

Butterflies

A queen and monarch butterfly sipping nectar. Image credit: Shutterstock/Paul Briden

THE ROLE OF POLLINATORS IN A SUSTAINABLE GARDEN

Planting and growing a pollinator garden is a rewarding endeavor: It provides resources for the pollinators that visit and brings attractive and interesting wildlife for the gardener’s enjoyment. Natural habitat areas necessary to support pollinators have decreased significantly due to land development, prevalence of lawns and monoculture farm crops. Residential gardens and landscapes are critical to providing pollinators essential habitat, food, water, cover and places to raise their young. Pollinators rely on plants to provide them nutrients for their survival, while plants rely on pollinators to deliver pollen and ensure their long-term survival. Beyond providing a nutritious supply of fruits, vegetables and nuts to the world’s population, pollinators help maintain native plant communities, which provide a variety of other ecosystem services, such as:

 

  • Carbon sequestration
  • Water filtration
  • Erosion control
  • Soil health
  • Urban heat island reduction

MORE ON POLLINATORS

According to a 2012 study by the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, residential areas in the United States are estimated to make up a total of 103 million acres of land. That’s an area of land equal to the entire state of California. While these landscapes provide an array of services for humans, pollinator species also use these landscapes for food, water and shelter; in doing so, they help maintain many functions necessary for the health of human habitats and our ecosystems at large. Without these insects and other animals, the vast majority of plants that provide food, clean our air and water, stabilize our soil, sequester carbon, and offer many other valuable ecosystem services could not survive.

Yet, there has been a significant population decline of pollinator species in the past three decades due largely to habitat loss and degradation. The primary stressors of this situation include the loss of breeding habitat due to agriculture and other land conversions, including both rural and urban developments, logging and deforestation at overwintering sites (particularly for monarch butterflies), pesticide and fertilizer use, and extreme weather conditions. Although we may not be directly associated with these stressors, we all are indirectly connected and thus must take responsibility and action to implement solutions.

Bee and coneflower

A European honey bee pollinates a native purple coneflower. Image credit: Shutterstock/Jim and Lynne Weber

Unsustainable vs. Sustainable Gardens:
How They Compare

BECOME A LANDSCAPE FOR LIFE TEACHER!

Landscape For Life includes a complete kit of teaching resources which can be used to conduct classes in sustainable home gardening. Become a teacher using Landscape For Life's self-paced webinar series.

Landscape For Life™ is a collaboration between the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden based on the principles of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES®).