pollen is the stuff that makes many of us sneeze our brains out during the growing seasons. It usually takes the form of fine, powdery, yellowish grains or spores, sometimes in masses, that blow around in the air and irritate our eyes and noses. For most of us, that’s all we know about pollen.
However, without all that pollen, we would most likely starve to death. Pollen is also the stuff that helps produce most of the food we eat. In fact, all flowering plants need to be pollinated, or fertilized, in order to produce their flowers, fruits, vegetables, nuts, or other crops.
Ants pollinating a raspberry flower.
Plants Need Outside Help
Pollination happens when pollen is transported to another flower on the same plant (self-pollinating), or to another plant of the same type, (e.g., pollen from one peach tree flower gets deposited on the flower of another peach tree). Sometimes plants must trade pollen with several other nearby plants in order to achieve complete fertilization.
If you’ve ever wondered why your fruit or vegetable plant is producing little or no fruit, it could be because of incomplete fertilization.
Most plants depend on an outside source to facilitate the fertilization process. In the wild, those outside services are provided primarily by bees, birds, butterflies, and bats, but even wasps, beetles, and flies can act as pollinators.
Fast Fact: About 75% of all flowering plant species need the help of animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization.
The problem is that, worldwide, habitat loss, pesticide use, invasive species, and parasites have decimated pollinators. In some cases, they have even become endangered species.
Not Just Monarchs And Honeybees
Some pollinators have grabbed the bulk of the publicity. Monarch butterflies, with their dependence on milkweed and their multi-year migrations have captured our imaginations. So has the European honeybee, with its colony collaspe disorder. Often left out of the discussion are the hundreds of thousands of other pollinators around the world.
Fast Fact: Pollinators include about 1,000 different kinds of vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals.
Photo: Black (Eastern) Swallowtail butterfly larva feasting on parsley. Swallowtails love this and other members of the carrot family as a place to rear their young.
What It All Means for North Texans
For those of us in North Texas, it’s essential that we also begin to understand and appreciate our native pollinators that populate the Great Plains, Cross Timbers, Piney Woods and other sub-regions. For instance, Texas is blessed with more species of butterflies than any other state. Nearly 430 different species in addition to the monarch. The Native Plant Society of Texas counts several hundred species of bees that are native to Texas, including bumblebees, mining bees, and long-horned bees.
Fast Fact: Most pollinators (about 200,000 species) are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, and moths.
Many bat species are pollinators, including this Lesser Long-Nose.
During National Pollinator Week Marshall Grain will help you discover who our local pollinators are how you can help protect them.
. . . And There’s A Lot You Can Do
Even if you live in an apartment or condo, you can help simply by planting some pollinator-friendly plants in your garden or on your balcony or patio. Even a single container with a mix of 3 to 5 plants can provide a waystation for weary pollinators looking for a drink of nectar. Monarch Watch provides details on how to create a waysation especially for monarch butterflies. You can even register your garden with Monarch Watch, as well as with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, and receive a special certificate and weather-proof sign to show that you’re supporting monarchs. Through such programs, gardeners are slowly creating a nation-wide network of small gardens that pollinators can rely on for food, water, and rest as they make their annual migrations and daily journeys across oceans, mountains and prairies.
You can also help by being an organic gardener. It does little good to offer pollinator-friendly plants doused with poisonous insecticides that drop our friends in their tracks. Even some organic pesticides should be used with caution around pollinators. Marshall Grain can show you how to garden without chemicals. When pesticide can’t be avoided, we can help you choose the right organic product for your situation that minimizes the risk to our pollinators.
Fast Fact: Honeybees forage during daylight hours when the temperatures are above 55-60°F. As the sun begins to set, they return to their hives for the evening. Thus, spraying pesticides in the evening hours can greatly reduce honey bee mortality because the bees are not in the fields.
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