By Annie Spiegelman, the Dirt Diva
In case you thought that flowers were just more pretty faces, they are, but they’re much more than that. They hold the reproductive organs of plants. Most fruit-bearing species depend on wind and pollinators—insects (especially bees), bats, birds and even gardeners—to help distribute pollen between ripe blossoms. As the pollinator takes in the nectar from the flower, pollen from the flower’s anthers gets stuck on the insect’s furry body and is taken to another flower where it’s dropped into the stigma. When pollination and fertilization occur, the ovary swells to form a fruit.
It is said that pollinators are responsible for every third bite of food we eat. Yet, we oblivious humans take all of this free labor for granted. We continue to threaten the existence of pollinators by destroying their habitat (growing lawns instead of flowering plants; modern factory farms growing acres of a single crop instead of a variety of plants for insects to feast on), the overuse of chemical pesticides and contributing to climate change by spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with our everyday activities (driving, flying, factory farming, landfills, etc.). Are we really that clueless? Unfortunately, yes. Insects freak us out. Yet, if we want to continue eating chocolate, berries and nuts, and drinking our trendy, overpriced coffee drinks, it’s time we start caring.
Honeybees (the A team of pollinators) are “biological indicators,” one of many barometers of a healthy environment, and disturbances in their life cycle should be sending us a loud message to pay attention. Since 2006, beekeepers began recording unusually high losses of honeybees. A majority of worker bees mysteriously disappeared from their hives, leaving behind a queen bee, plenty of food and the remaining bees, resulting in the death of the colony. Scientists labeled this phenomenon as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Global research on the honeybee crisis is continuing and shows that there are a group of factors that interact. Principal culprits are thought to be pathogens, parasites, particularly Varroa mites; management stressors, including overcrowding and migratory stress; and environmental stressors, especially exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides. (Marketed by European chemical giants Syngenta and Bayer, neonics are systemic pesticides that have come into play in the last 20 years. The EU banned most neonicotinoids in 2013 because of the growing evidence linking them to the decline of honeybees.)
Will we heed the call to protect pollinators? I hope so. It’s time to TURN OFF the toxic-Trump carnival-barker speeches taking over the airwaves lately and get outside into your garden to grow flowers that our grandmothers grew! Lots of them. When selecting flowers, keep in mind that yellow, white, blue and purple colors will attract bees the most. You’ll find many gorgeous drought-tolerant options at our local Marin independent nurseries, or you can shop online at annieannuals.com for the most gorgeous girly/granny flowers you’ve ever seen. Warning: You are going to want them all!
Here are some flower options to invite the pollinators to your ’hood:
Perennials for Bees: Blanket Flower, Blazing Star, California Poppy, Catmint, Purple Coneflower, Russian Sage, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
Annuals for Bees: Alyssum, Bachelor Buttons, Calendula, Cosmos, Marigold, Snapdragon, Sunflower, Zinnia
Herbs for Bees:
Basil, Borage, Catmint, Chamomile, Dill, Lemon Balm, Mint, Rosemary, Sage
Perennials for Butterflies:
Allium, Bee Balm, Blazing Star, Butterfly Weed, Coreopsis, Lupine, Phlox, Salvia, Yarrow
Annuals for Butterflies:
Verbena, Cosmos, Dahlia, Heliotrope, Lantana, Marigold, Mexican Sunflower
Herbs for Butterflies:
Basil, Chives, Dill, Fennel, Mint, Parsley
Perennials for Hummingbirds:
Bearded Penstemon, Cardinal Flower, Columbine, Coral Bells, Flowering Maple, Foxglove, Hosta, Larkspur Delphinium, Lupine, Scarlet Beebalm
Annuals for Hummingbirds:
Agastache, Canna Lily, Fuchsia, Geranium, Impatiens, Nasturtium, Penstemon
Herbs for Hummingbirds:
Anise, Bee balm, Catnip, Lavender, Mint, Pineapple Sage, Rosemary
Lastly, don’t forget about fruit trees. Our grandparents grew apple, cherry and peach trees to bake pies for us, and there were blackberry bushes for making jam. Then came suburban sprawl and we were somehow convinced that we needed large lawns, regularly sprayed with a plethora of toxic chemicals, instead of sprawling fruit trees and rambling bushes growing naturally. It’s time to go back. As award-winning poet, novelist and farmer Wendell Berry writes, “When going back makes sense, you are going forward.”
To learn more about saving pollinators, one garden at a time, pick up a copy of the new book by Master Gardener Rhonda Fleming Hayes called Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies, and Other Pollinators. Her book embraces the idea that healthy, productive gardens shouldn’t be bug-free, but rather have lots and lots of creatures performing countless helpful tasks for free. Her own garden is a season-long buffet of overlapping blooms, hedges, thickets, flowering groundcover, understory trees and stately trees, mixed with brightly colored perennials with places for insects to feed, hide, rest and drink.
Providing a home and food for super pollinators will breathe new life into a garden that was once stagnant and silent. Fleming has prepared a call to action urging gardeners to take on her message. She wants us to plant pollinator-friendly blooms and take the message to our neighbors. “The hope of Pollinator Friendly Gardening is that one pollinator garden begets another and another until there are hundreds of them, conceivably thousands,” writes the author.
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