By Kelle Hartman, Children & Family Educator
I’ll admit it – I’m guilty. There are more dandelions and clovers in my yard than grass. And during sunny summer mornings, the hum from the yard has been audible as I step outside. My yard has been alive with movement as bees buzz from one flower to the next.
Could I spray the dandelions? Sure. But I consider my yard and all its nectar-filled “weeds” a safe haven for bees and other pollinators. With all the threats they face today, my yard has become a much-needed feeding ground. If I spray my “weeds” and take away that source of food, especially those early season dandelions, I’m only adding to their troubles. I value the importance of bees and other pollinators and their role in our food systems and environment, so I don’t want to risk their health.
But you might be asking… why are pollinators so important? Why should we do our best to support them? There are many reasons, but let’s start with four simple ones…
- You like apples (and grapes, bananas, tomatoes and countless other fruits and vegetables)
90% of U.S. apple crops are pollinated by bees. In warmer climates, bats pollinate more than 300 types of fruits including mangoes, bananas, guavas and the agave plant, which is used in tequila production.
The simple fact is, many of the fruits and vegetables we eat would not be available if it weren’t for pollinators. Pollinators visit flowers in search of nectar and pollen for a food and energy source. While feasting, they move pollen from one flower to the next, fertilizing the flower and creating seeds. Many plants encase their seeds inside fruits or vegetables for protection or to aide in their dispersal.
Humans have become very fond of these foods and would surely miss them if they disappeared from lack of pollinators. Don’t consider yourself a lover of fruits or veggies? How about chocolate, coffee or spices instead? Many of these beloved food staples require pollinators, too. Check out this list to see what else would be missing from your dinner plate.
- You know a farmer, or agriculture is an important part of your local economy.
Beyond the fruits and vegetables we enjoy, bees also pollinate crops grown for nut and seed production and are also needed for the production of half of the world’s edible oils, such as palm, canola and sunflower oils. Even alfalfa, an important food source for our dairy cows, requires bees for pollination.
While many think of honey bees as our main pollinators, there are more than 3,500 species of native bees that help, too. Studies have shown that when farms increase the native pollinator habitats near their fields, by adding wildflowers or leaving part of the land untilled to enhance habitats and nest sites, they attract a greater diversity of bees which in turn leads to greater crop yields and more economic gains. This is because many native bees are able to pollinate earlier in the day than honey bees and can tolerate cooler temperatures and windier days, making them more efficient pollinators.
- You appreciate clean air and water.
To put it simply, pollinators help plants that help us. Between 75-95% of flowering plants need help with pollination. More pollinators mean more seeds being produced, which in turn grow into more plants. Through the process of photosynthesis, or making their own food, these green plants remove carbon dioxide from the air. When found in large amounts in our atmosphere, carbon dioxide can trap additional heat, leading to atmospheric and environmental complications.
A healthy pollinator population leads to a healthy plant population, which captures this carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and turning it into a food source for animals and people. This vegetation can also keep our rivers and lakes cleaner, and their roots stabilize the soil and prevent erosion along stream banks and flood plains.
- You want a healthier planet.
Pollinators help plants that support food chains around the world and maintain the overall health of our ecosystem. Leaves, seeds, nuts, fruits and berries provide food for herbivores, who in turn are eaten by larger predators. Plants also provide important shelter and protection for a variety of animal species. If plants are removed from this chain, because there are no pollinators to help them reproduce, the entire system is affected. The diversity of pollinators helps create diversity in our environment, leading to a stronger and healthier planet that is better able to tolerate and bounce back from changes.
So call me lazy if you like for not maintaining a greener lawn. I call myself a pollinator hero, and you can be too! If you value the foods that we eat and the farmers that grow them, consider adding a few pollinator-friendly plants to your garden or letting more dandelions grow in your yard. If you enjoy clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe, encourage and help others support pollinators, too. Many small changes can add up to a more positive outcome for our pollinator populations!
Want to learn more about pollinators and how you can help support them in your own back yard? Join us for Butterflies & Blooms this summer to discover all the ways you can be a pollinator champion! The exhibit is open daily from 10 am-5 pm through August 31.
You can already get started by joining the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and plant your own pollinator paradise with these simple garden designs made in partnership with the Wild Ones – Green Bay Chapter and Stone Silo Prairie Gardens. You can buy these plants at local nurseries like Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, too!