Plants and insects have a mutually beneficial relationship. One cannot exist without the other. Plants depend on insects to carry their pollen from flower to flower, and insects depend on pollen and flower nectar for food. Over 80% of flowering plants depend on pollination by insects or other animals. In turn, we, as humans, depend on plants. This beautiful flow of life is why it’s crucial we care for our pollinators and love our living landscapes.
Pollination is moving the pollen within a flower or from one to another by insects, animals, wind, or water. This leads to fertilization and seed/fruit production for the plant. Most staple grains are wind-pollinated (including wheat, rice, oats, rye, and corn), while fruits, nuts, oil seeds, and most vegetables require an insect or animal for pollination. 1 out of 3 mouthfuls of food we eat is made possible by pollinators. The daily work of pollinators is essential for over a billion dollars worth of apples, pears, cucumbers, melons, berries, and many other types of produce. Pollinators are crucial to the human food system and an integral part of a healthy ecosystem.
We are seeing a decline in pollinator populations. This decline is due to loss of habitat (such as when a wildflower field turns into a shopping mall), loss of food sources (when natural flowers get taken over by pavement, lawns, or invasive species), pesticides, and disease. It is important we recognize pollinators as vital to landscapes, both for their role in human food production and in maintaining healthy natural ecosystems. There are over 400 species of wild bees in Ontario. Other pollinators include wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, birds, beetles, bats & other animals.
What are ways you can help? Like humans, all pollinators require access to food, water, and shelter. Whether you have a large farm or a small urban space, there are many simple things you can do to help.
Plant pollinator-friendly gardens! Pollinators need a variety of nectar and pollen-rich flowers available throughout their foraging period. You don’t have to have a large plot of land to support pollinators – even small container plantings help to provide food & shelter! Plant native species, they have co-evolved with their pollinators. Avoid hybridized plants; many have no pollen or nectar and are too difficult for pollinators to access.
Create & help protect suitable undisturbed nesting sites. Many native bees live solitary lives in ground burrows. Leave bare, mulch-free ground in sunny, well-drained areas to help protect nesting sites. Some native bees commonly nest in the pithy stems of plants like raspberries and blackberries. If you must remove the old canes to encourage fruiting, place the cut stems in vertical bundles close to the plants for at least one year.
Allow leaves and broken branches to remain in your yard or garden. They provide important overwintering sites for many beneficial insects.
Go organic! Pesticides are a significant threat to pollinator health and have been linked to widespread bee deaths. Plant organic seeds and practice organic gardening/yard care. Support healthy agricultural systems by buying organic food.
Provide a slow drip or shallow container filled with small pebbles or coarse sand that rises above the water level. A pond with a gently sloped bank can also work.
Check out some pollinator-friendly species to include in your space!
New England Aster