Why are pollination, pollinators, and pollinator plants so important?

Pollination is one of nature’s most important functions; it is the way many plants reproduce. Pollinators assist plants with reproduction; they take pollen from one plant to another. If plants aren’t properly pollinated, they can’t bear fruit or produce seeds to grow new plants. Many plants are wholly dependent on the presence of pollinators to continue their existence—almonds, apples, and blueberries to name three.

What is a pollinator? A pollinator is anything that helps carry pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma to help in fertilization of that plant.  Insects, including bees, wasps, ants, flies, mosquitos, butterflies, and moths, are the most common pollinators. Bees, probably the most common pollinator of all, have fuzzy bodies with an electrostatic charge so pollen adheres to them. Honeybees, not native to North America, were brought here for honey production and to pollinate crops. North Dakota and Montana are the two leading states in honeybee and honey production. Bats and birds, especially hummingbirds are also important pollinators. And wind and water can carry pollen.

Why worry about pollinators? Many insect pollinators are in decline. Pesticides are one reason for this decline. Neonicotinoids, namely imidacloprid, are a popular, new group of insecticides that are especially toxic to bees. It is so toxic to bees, imidacloprid has been banned in Europe. Other reasons for insect pollinator decline are diseases, loss of habitat, monoculture crops, competition and big weather events such a droughts, floods, tornadoes, or hurricanes.  During the winter of 2006,’07 and before, many people in agriculture were worried because bee colony collapse was causing the death of worker bees in some colonies. The varroa mite was blamed for this collapse but there was thought to be more than one cause. Fortunately, there are fewer colony collapses today.

Plant a pollinator garden.   A pollinator garden is an area with flowers that provide pollen and nectar for pollinating insects, providing vital nutrients that keep insects alive and sustain them throughout the year. These gardens can be a safe habitat to help support the pollinator population. When planting a pollinator garden….

1)Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Keep the area natural and wild.   

2)Plant many and diverse plants that bloom brightly at different times of the spring, summer and fall.

3) Single, not double blossoms, especially tubular shaped, are the best flower shapes, so the insects and birds can get down into the flower with their proboscis and beaks and collect the nectar and pollen they are after.

4)Use native plants that produce an abundance of pollen and nectar. Native plants are best because they take less care and water and are well-adapted to our area. Some Montana native plants recommended by Montana State University for improving bee habitat here are sticky geranium, yellow penstemon, golden aster, bluebells, blanket flower, wild beebalm, and prairie sunflower.