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Helping Pollinators: From The White House To Your Yard In White Plains

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) and Its Beetle Pollinator
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) and Its Beetle Pollinator Photo Credit: Contributed by Kim Eierman

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Pollinators are finally getting a little respect.

On May 19, 2015, the White House announced the National Pollinator Research Action that details a “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”  This new national strategy has three principal goals:

1) Reduce honey bee colony losses during winter to no more than 15 percent within 10 years.

2) Increase the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly to 225 million butterflies.

3) Restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years through Federal actions and public/private partnerships.

National efforts are critical to help pollinators, but so are individual actions.  In order to get motivated to help pollinators, it’s helpful to understand what pollination is and why it is so important.

Simply put, pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther of a flower to the stigma of the same flower or a different flower. The anther is a male reproductive part of a flower where pollen is produced; the stigma is a female part of a flower where fertilization starts after pollen lands there.  It’s the reproductive process of plants - the “birds and the bees” of most of the plant world.

While some plants are self-fertile or wind-pollinated, many plants need the help of a pollinator.  Collectively, animal pollinators pollinate between 75 percent and 80 percent of all flowering plants, and approximately 35 percent of our food crops.   Animal pollinators are so important that they increase the yield of 87 percent of the world’s leading food crops, according to the United Nations.

In the White House’s pollinator plan, honey bees and Monarch butterflies are highlighted, but there are so many more pollinators out there that depend on our landscapes. Animal pollinators include native bees (as well as honey bees), many species of beetles, flies, bats, butterflies, moths, wasps, ants and birds.

While the honey bee is an important pollinator, it is not native to North America and comprises just a single species (Apis mellifera).  There are an extraordinary number of species of other animal pollinators.  Native bees account for 20,000 species globally, with 4,000 species just in North America.  That seems like a lot, until you discover that are 350,000 species of beetles – many of which are pollinators.  Beetles are the most ancient of pollinators and have evolved with ancient plants, like Magnolias.  If you love Magnolias, you have beetles to thank.

Not all pollinators are attracted to the same plants.  So how do you know what to plant to support all of these pollinators?  Read the coming article to learn about the plant characteristics that attract each group of pollinators.  And, get ready to plant!

Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial. When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.

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