There’s been a lot of buzz about pollinators lately, and for good reason. Pollinators—the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, wasps, flies, beetles and other critters that move pollen between flowers—are essential to human life.
The pollen-delivery services of these animals are needed by some 75% of all flowering plants on earth. Pollinators serve more than 180,000 plant species and more than 1,200 crops worldwide—that’s at least 2/3 of the world’s crop species. In addition to the food we eat, pollinators support healthy fields and forests that clean the air, stabilize soils, provide protection from severe weather, and make life on earth possible for humans and wildlife.
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
Kestrel Land Trust is taking advantage of the opportunity to make a difference for our local pollinators. With financial support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have set out to transform an old 20-acre field (known locally as the “Owl” property) into Mount Warner Meadow—a welcoming habitat for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Our goal is to create an expanse of wildflowers blooming spring, summer and fall. With Mt. Warner rising in the background, this flowering meadow, seen by hundreds of drivers daily, will offer the public lovely, three-season scenery from North Maple St. in Hadley.
In a multi-year project initiated in 2019, Kestrel will first address the invasive plants that have infested the field and its wooded edges, including glossy buckthorn, purple loosestrife, multiflora rose, and autumn olive. Perhaps the worst is reed canary grass, a non-native grass that spreads aggressively and grows in tight bunches, overcoming native flowering species and preventing small animals such as birds and field mice from moving around easily under cover.
Battling invasive plants can take time, but once their numbers have been significantly reduced in the field, we will sow seeds of native flowering plants such as milkweed, Joe-Pye weed, aster, and cardinal flower. We’ll nurture the new plants and address invasives when they try to return. The goal will be to keep invasive plants at a low level that allows plenty of opportunity for native plants to thrive. Through a careful monitoring and a thoughtful mowing plan, we hope to maintain the field as a haven for pollinators and other wildlife for years to come.
Is Pollination Really That Important?
Do you like tomatoes? How about strawberries? Without pollinators, these fruits would not exist. There would also be no pumpkins, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, melons, pears, peaches, bananas, avocados, almonds, or many other fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Wind-pollinated crops such as corn and wheat would remain, but can you imagine a world where you can’t enjoy a cup of coffee along with a slice of apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream? Yes—coffee, apples, and vanilla would all be unavailable without pollinators doing their work.
What is pollination, exactly? It’s when a pollen grain moves from the male part of a flower to the female part. This is the first step of plant reproduction, which means producing seeds, fruits, and the next generation of plants. This can happen through self-pollination, wind and water pollination, or through the work of agents (“pollinators”) that move pollen either within the flower or from bloom to bloom.
Insects, birds and some mammals are pollen-moving agents. They visit flowers to drink nectar or feed on pollen, then transport pollen grains as they move from one flower to another. Rooted in place, plants need help from wind, water, or animals to move their pollen between plants.
What Is Happening to Pollinators?
Many pollinator populations are in clear decline, primarily through the loss to development of vegetated areas where they can feed and nest. Pesticide use, pollution, invasive species, introduced diseases, and changes in climate patterns are thought to be additional factors, but in some cases there is not enough information to know, which is even more alarming. All we know is that pollinators seem to be disappearing, and as they go, the effect on crops and native plants can be disastrous.
How Can You Help?
Luckily, science has shown that conservation efforts can work for pollinators, so you can have an impact! Here are some ways to give pollinators a fighting chance:
- Helping to keep open space as open space is probably the biggest thing you can do to assist pollinators and other wildlife, so consider supporting your local land trust’s efforts to conserve natural areas.
- Buy local! Support farmers and beekeepers by buying local honey and locally produced organic foods.
- Spread the word about the importance of pollinators. Share this article!
- Support efforts to protect pollinators through responsible legislation and other measures.
- Create your home garden to attract and support pollinators, or encourage pollinator plantings near community gardens to increase their yields.
For more information, check out these resources:
Pollinator Partnership: Promotes the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research.
Native Plant Trust: The nation’s first plant conservation organization and the only one solely focused on New England’s native plants
Grow Native Massachusetts: Excellent information about how to incorporate native plants in your home garden and how to recognize and deal with invasives.
Gardening to Support Pollinators Fact Sheet: From The Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst