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story.lead_photo.caption A bee's legs are coated with pollen as it searches for food on a purple coneflower in south Pulaski County on Tuesday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Alyson Hoge) for HomeStyle

You can't open a magazine or catalog these days without seeing an article about the importance of pollinators, usually bees or Monarch butterflies. But there are about 200,000 species of pollinators, including beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees, but also flies, beetles, wasps, ants, moths, birds, bats and some small mammals.

One in every three bites of food we eat can be directly linked to pollinators, from fruits and vegetables, to coffee and tequila, and even chocolate and vanilla; they all need pollinators.

Twelve years ago, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved and designated a week in June as National Pollinator Week, an effort to showcase the importance of pollination in human food. National Pollinator Week 2019 is June 17-23.

This week is a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what everyone can do to protect them. Pollinator Week is publicized by the Pollinator Partnership, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that promotes conservation, education and research to protect the health of pollinators critical to food and ecosystems. The partnership coordinates and publicizes events across the country.


Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants, the method by which most plants reproduce. The process involves moving pollen from one part of the plant to another, and sometimes between different species. The end result is a seed.

Some plants can be wind pollinated, including wheat, rice and corn, but it is estimated that 75% of flowering plants rely on an animal or insect to carry their pollen for them.

We have had an amazing garden season so far this year in Arkansas. We have seen more than normal blooms on many of plants due to the mild season last year and ample rainfall in spring. Fruit set started early, and gardeners are getting early returns from vegetable and fruit gardens. Gardeners have been also seeing large numbers of bees and butterflies, which is a good thing.

Milkweed is essential for Monarch butterflies, which are pollinators. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON)

To encourage even more pollinators in your garden, consider planting a diverse mix of plants that ensures you always have blooms in need of pollination.

Pollinators are attracted by sweet nectar and nutritious pollen.

Different pollinators look for different colors, sizes and shapes of blooms and they are drawn to scents.

Newer hybrids with larger, showier and sometimes double blooms often have less pollen and nectar than the older single varieties.

While we have all seen bees and butterflies on a diverse mix of flowers, both in species and color, there are preferences.


Bees are drawn to plants with open or flat flowers with lots of pollen and nectar. Shallow flowers are an easier fit for their short mouthparts. The most bee-attractive are brightly colored petals that are blue, purple or yellow or a mixture of these (bees cannot see red) and are open in the daytime because bees are not active at night, and that have a minty or sweet fragrance.

Bees can be active year-round, so having plants that bloom in every season is important for the bees.


Butterflies prefer bright red and purple blooms, but also prefer a landing pad to rest on while they sip the nectar from a tubular bloom.

Many gardeners plant to attract specific butterflies to their garden, especially monarchs. While butterflies are looking for nectar to drink, they also need host plants for their larvae to feed on. If you want to attract Monarchs to your garden, you must have some milkweed plants for their larvae.

Different butterflies have different host plants. Host plants range from milkweed, pipevine and passion vine, to herbs such as fennel and parsley, to bushes such as spicebush as well as to trees like sweet bay magnolia and pawpaw.

Don't be alarmed if your host plants are eaten up a bit, that is why you are planting them.

If you include host plants and nectar plants in your garden, you will attract a wider selection of butterflies while providing an environment that supports their entire life cycle.


Hummingbirds prefer red and orange blooms but also like a tubular shape to the bloom.

A sphinx moth sips from dianthus, pollinating in the process. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON)

Many night-blooming plants are white, so moths can see them in the evening and plants that need flies for pollination often smell like rotting meat (carrion flowers are one example). There are more than 110,000 species of flies and many of them visit flowers and help with pollination. Hoverflies are top of the list, and many who see them, think they are small bees instead of flies. Hoverflies are particularly good with fruit crop pollination. Bats are an important pollinator in the rain forests where they help pollinate bananas, mangoes and dates.

Hoverflies are efficient pollinators. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON)


Some of the 200,000 pollinators are less appealing to people. They also are not as efficient as bees and butterflies.

Wasps have been quite prolific this year, and to many a gardener they seem more a nuisance than a help, but some wasps do visit flowers and aid in pollination. They are less efficient as their bee cousins, because they lack body hairs which carry pollen.

Ants are listed as a pollinator, but they are pretty minor players in plant reproduction. Since most walk around the blooms, they can transfer limited amounts of pollen, but there are some species of flying ants that do help.

More surprising members of the pollinator group are mosquitoes! While they are horrendous this season with all the water, it is only the females that have eggs to lay and need a blood meal from mammals. A mosquito's favorite meal is nectar, which males drink in large amounts and females imbibe before mating. After mating, they feast on us.

While they are drinking nectar, they are also transferring pollen. Mosquitoes can be a major pollen mover for certain orchids.

A red milkweed beetle clings to a milkweed leaf in Great Falls, Mont., Wednesday, July 25, 2007. The beetle is one of the few insects that can safely feed on the milkweed plant. (AP Photo/Great Falls Tribune, Robin Loznak)

Beetles were one of the world's first pollinators, millions of years ahead of bees, and they continue to pollinate flowers today, but in a different way than most pollinators. Most beetles are not sipping nectar and picking up pollen but rather eating the plants and leaving their droppings elsewhere. Some refer to them as mess-and-soil pollinators.


Pollinator-attracting plants can include annual and perennial flowers, vegetables and herbs, fruit trees and shrubs. While butterflies and hummingbirds are not very active in colder months, bees are around year-round, so you need some plants that bloom even in the winter months, like hellebores, rosemary, camellias and mahonia.

A healthy garden with a diverse mix of plants is what most gardeners are hoping to achieve for their own enjoyment, but it will also be attractive to pollinators. Making sure there are blooms in all seasons is good from a landscape perspective and a pollinator's perspective.

Pollinators like flowers but they also need a water source, and habitat — protection from the elements and predators. Use caution when applying any pesticides in the landscape, since many can be harmful to the pollinators you want to attract.

Celebrate pollinators this week, but to ensure your garden has pollinators year-round, plant a diverse mix of plants for all seasons.

Read Janet Carson's blog at

HomeStyle on 06/15/2019

Print Headline: Precious pollinators

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