• Bees are among the most memorable pollinators. They prefer flat flowers with large landing pads rather that tube or bowl-shaped blooms.

  • A hummingbird gets a bite to eat from a flower. Pollinator creatures need native plants to feed.

  • Karner Blue butterflies feed only on lupines, which prefer to grow in pine barrens. Planting native plants is important to support pollinators. AP file

Published: 6/18/2022 4:23:05 PM
Modified: 6/18/2022 4:22:44 PM

This week is National Pollinator Week (June 20-26), a time to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators and to encourage people to protect and promote them. When asked to think about pollinators, bees usually come to mind. But there are many other unique pollinators, all providing important services.

To review the basics, pollination occurs when the pollen from the male part of a plant is transferred to female part of a plant. This coupling of pollen with ovules produces the seeds which allow for reproduction and the continuation of that particular kind of plant. During the process of seed production, fruits which are the containers for the seeds (or sometimes the platform as in the case of strawberries) form. Therefore without pollination we would not have tree fruits, berries, grapes, melons, squashes, grains, tomatoes, coconut, coffee, chocolate, and more.

Grains generally rely on the wind and some plants depend on moving water to carry their pollen. But about 80% of flowering plants require animals to transfer their pollen. To increase the visitation of pollinators to the flowers, plants have numerous ways of attracting movers and shakers.

Flower color varies widely and each color is likely to attract different types of pollinators. Dull white or green flowers bring in beetles; bright white, yellow, blue or ultraviolet attract bees; butterflies are drawn to bright red and purple, moths to pale red, purple, pink or white and hummingbirds find red flowers attractive.

Scent is also a magnet for some pollinators. Putrid smells, especially when associated with red flowers, mimic rotting meat and attract flies. Fresh but mild fragrances bring in butterflies and moths while strong sweet smells emitted at night attract moths.

Nectar guides (lines leading to the source of the nectar) are often present on flowers frequented by butterflies and bees. These are not always visible to human eyes, but can be seen by the insects.

Once the pollinators arrive at the flowers, the shape of the bloom can determine if they successfully access the nectar they seek. Bees do well with flat flowers that provide a “landing pad”. Beetles easily crawl into bowl-like flowers. Moths and butterflies can utilize their long tongues to reach into tubular flowers.

As insects and other fauna (small mammals and birds) collect their sweet meals, the structure of the flowers often ensures that the animal bodies get covered with pollen. This is then deposited on future plants that are visited, creating the cross-pollination necessary for reproduction.

With each of these examples, there are pairings of pollinators to plants, called pollination syndromes. If one of the pair is not present, the other will suffer. It’s not like a particular bee can switch from gathering nectar at a flat yellow flower to feeding on a tubular red flower. They just aren’t built to do that.

That’s why, if we want to protect and promote the diversity of pollinators, it’s important to provide a diversity of native plants that produce the flowers to which they are adapted. Non-native plants and showy cultivars may look and even smell nice in our gardens, however, their structure is likely not compatible with the abilities of the indigenous insects. When choosing plants for your yard and garden, it’s important to provide an abundance of native plants that the “locals” need.

Another, simple activity that can help pollinators is turning off outside lights. There are certainly safety reasons for having lights on, but using motion detectors rather than having lights shine all night can really make a difference for nocturnal insects. Studies show that nighttime visits to plants by pollinators drastically decline in areas with artificial lights versus dark zones.

Of course, dramatically reducing or eliminating the use of insecticides is also recommended to help pollinators. Though some pesticides are intended to decrease the “bad bugs” they often are not targeted and can wreak havoc on the beneficial insects as well. If you do choose to use lethal chemicals, do your research first.

Insects are some of the most fascinating and most important creatures on the planet, so taking steps to help them is something we all can do. To learn more about pollinator protection visit these websites:




Happy Pollinator Week!

Take Me Outside is a monthly feature exploring New Hampshire wildlife and the natural environment. Ruth Smith, earned a Master’s degree and state-wide and regional awards in environmental education. She has taught countless children and adults about ecology at several NH non-profit organizations. Ruth lives in a solar-powered home on a small homestead farm in Canterbury.

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