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Pollination Nation

Pollinating has become a popular topic over the last few years. Pollinators like butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, birds, beetles, and bats help spread pollen from plant to plant, aiding in the plants’ reproduction and fruit and flower development. Many people are eager to help insects like the Monarch Butterfly, planting butterfly bushes and butterfly weed. Fewer people know exactly why it is important to not only help the butterflies, but other pollinators as well.

Why are they important? Well, they play a major role in our food production industry, and studies show one out of every three bites is on our plate because of a pollinator. They also play a big role in ecosystems, since so many insects and animals rely on the plants they pollinate to eat.

Pollinators work hard for us and the world and ask only a little in return. By planting some of their favorite and most visited plants, as well as making our yards pollinator friendly, we can ensure the pollinators are around to stay, meaning we are as well.

As you will notice, there are a number of plants that attract more than one pollinator; some even attract 3 or 4! If you have a small garden, or are more concerned about getting the most bang for your buck, the bolded plants are worth the purchase.

BUTTERFLIES
Butterflies, beyond being beautiful, pollinate hundreds of flowers in our gardens. They prefer plants that have brightly colored (red, pink, orange, yellow) flowers in clusters, especially those with a landing area on them. Butterflies like to work for their nectar, therefore preferring plants that are bell-shaped, or have their nectar hidden deep within the flower.

What to plant:
Annuals: Ageratum, Calendula, Cosmos, Lantana, Pentas, Snapdragons, Verbena, Zinnia
Perennials: Sedum, Monarda, Baptisia, Yarrow, Joe Pye Weed, Liatris, Mint, Leucanthemum, Goldenrod, Rudbekia, Salvia, Coneflower, Milkweed* (Monarch host plant), Coreopsis, Dianthus, Mallow, Penstemon, Asters*, Lupines, Scabiosa
Fruits/Shrubs/Trees: Buddleia, Blueberries, Lilac, Ninebark

BEES
Native bees pollinate much of our cultivated crops and are a great asset to farmers. Some larger species prefer daisy-like flowers, while others prefer quantity over quality, pollinating smaller flowers in large clusters. Regardless of the size, bees benefit from their flowers being planted in large swaths (3’ x 3’), particularly in shades of purple (the easiest color for them to see). Bees are like airplanes that need ground control directing them down the runway, and these large purple patches do exactly that.

What to plant:
Annuals: Borage, Cosmos, Snapdragons, Calendula
Perennials: Coneflower, Rudbeckia, Goldenrod, Bee Balm, Foxglove, Lavender, Heather, Bellflower, Thyme, Forget-Me-Not, Cranesbill, Salvia, Allium, Penstemon, Clover, Pulmonaria, Sedum, Chives, Mint, Yarrow
Fruits/Shrubs/Trees: Rhododendron, Blackberry, Raspberry

HUMMINGBIRDS
There is nothing better than seeing hummingbirds flitting about your plants and feeders in the heat of the summer. Hummingbirds are curious little critters with their agile bodies and long beaks, and this is what helps them get deep into the brightly colored tubular or bell-shaped flowers. They have little competition here, but as a result can be overlooked when gardeners plant pollinator-attracting gardens.

What to plant:
Annuals: Sage, Zinnia, Petunia, Nicotiana, Fuschia
Perennials: Trumpet Vine, Honeysuckle, Red Cardinal Flower, Salvia, Lupine, Columbine, Delphinium, Penstemon, Pulmonaria, Agastache, Hot Poker
Fruits/Shrubs/Trees: Rhododendron, Buckeye, Weigela

BIRDS
While birds do not pollinate, at least not nearly as much as the others mentioned above, they play an important role in the plant world. Birds are seed spreaders, and as such will spread the pollinating plants far and wide if they can. They benefit from a lot of the same plants as the other pollinators do, but tend to use them in the fall, once the nectar has been collected. Birds eat the seeds, but also use plant material in their nests, helping these plants come full circle.

What to plant:
Annuals: Sunflower, Ageratum
Perennials: Coneflower, Milkweed, Grasses, Aster, Gallardia,
Fruits/Shrubs/Trees: Elderberry, Dogwood, Blackberries,

BATS
Although many people have unfounded fears of bats, these winged mammals take over pollinating after the sun goes down. They prefer large, fragrant, white or pale flowers that are of course open during the twilight and nighttime hours. Bats not only pollinate flowers but will eat insects on the flowers and in the air around them. By planting flowers that attract them, we can reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitos in our yards.

What to plant:
Annuals: Night-Blooming Phlox, Cleome, Nicotiana, Four O’Clocks, Moonflower
Perennials: Goldenrod, Evening Primrose
Fruits/Shrubs/Trees: Yucca

 

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