Last week, I spent my free time celebrating with chocolate. It was National Pollinator Week, and there would be no chocolate without our amazing and diverse pollinators. My thanks go to the tiny midges that pollinate the cacoa flowers. These flowers are about the size of a nickel, complex in design, and cannot fertilize themselves. Thank goodness for those midges who do the pollen transporting! What would the world be like without chocolate? I shudder to think.
Pollinators are animals that fertilize plants by moving pollen from the male structures, called anthers, of flowers to the female structure, called stigma, of the same species. This results in the production of seeds and is necessary for many plants to reproduce. In exchange, the pollinators receive nectar and/or pollen – nectar provides carbohydrates and pollen offers proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other necessary nutrients. Not all plants require the assistance of pollinators: wheat for example, is wind pollinated, as are most conifers and the dreaded ragweeds. It is estimated that there are 300,000 species of flowering plants worldwide that require animal pollinators.
Bees are the primary pollinators, but moths, butterflies, beetles and flies, along with birds, mammals, and reptiles serve as pollinators, too. Many people are concerned about the health and survival of bees as they are threatened by pests, pathogens, pesticides, lack of nesting habitat and forage plants, and more. But did you know that you can help bees and other pollinators by not only selecting suitable plants for your garden, but also by your choice of trees for your yard and woodlands?
Many Ohio trees can provide food for bees from early spring through late summer. Common trees such as buckeye, catalpa, redbud, hazelnut, dogwood, apple, magnolia, serviceberry, and basswood are all important for bees. Some of these are sources of nectar, some for pollen, and some provide both. Ohio State University Extension has a fact sheet entitled “Ohio Trees for Bees,” which can be downloaded at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/ent-71 along with several other informative publications about pollinators. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife has identification guides with color photos to help you identify butterflies and skippers, moths, milkweeds and monarchs, as well as bees and wasps. Visit wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/stay-informed/publications.
A few pointers:
• Double check that your tree and plant selections are not an invasive species in your area. An internet search will lead you to all kind of trees, shrubs, and flowers that are advertised as attractive to pollinators; however, some are not suitable or are even banned as they spread rapidly and are nearly impossible to eradicate.
• When selecting a tree for pollinators, know its growth pattern and size at maturity. Plant the best tree for the site you have in mind. Avoid power lines, home sewage treatment systems and home foundations.
• Nectar and pollen are important to pollinators but remember that shelter and water are needed, too. Different layers of plants, shrubs, and trees provide protection from severe weather and predators, as well as nesting and roosting sites.
More resources can be found at pollinator.org, including a planting guide tailored to your region. Just type in your zip code and you will be directed to the right guide for your area. And while you are doing all this research, be sure to savor a creamy smooth piece of chocolate and thank those midges!
Great programs and ideas can be found at www.delawareswcd.org including our upcoming workshop entitled “Managing Neighborhood Nuisance Wildlife.”
Join us at the city of Powell Municipal Building on July 10, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. The workshop is free, but reservations are requested.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.