Flowers and Pollinators
Flowers and pollinators have a long history together, and many of them have become quite particular with regards to the other. On the side of the flowers, take for instance the Missouri Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) that blooms in the evening and wilts with the heat of day; its pollinator is the night flying sphinx moth. Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia) has a beak-like cone, and bumble bees (Bombus spp.), which are strong enough to pry open the cone, pollinate this plant. On the side of the pollinators, specificity is also quite common. In fact, look at the bee species in Missouri, nearly 425 of them, and of these, about 1 in 3 is dependent on a narrow food source1. For instance, Penstemon Bees (Osmia distincta) primarily use the beardtongues (Penstemon spp), Coreopsis Bees (Andrena beameri) are specific to certain species of Coreopsis, and the Salvia Bee (Tetraloniella cressoniana) primarily utilizes Blue Sage (Salvia azurea).
Providing habitat for this wide variety of “picky eaters” requires a large diversity of flowering plants. And, to ensure that pollinators are available to pollinate those “tricky” plants, adequate habitat must be maintained to sustain viable populations of the pollinators. Some tips for creating and managing quality pollinator habitat follow:
Provide Foraging Habitat
Pollinators need flowers for nectar and pollen. A wide variety of plants that bloom from spring to fall provide sustenance during the entire growing season. Many native bees are best adapted to gathering pollen from native plants, and native plants are most likely to flourish in an area’s soils, climate, and day length. A large diversity of plants will provide food for a greater number of pollinator species.
Protect Nesting Areas
Ground nesting bees need bare patches in well-drained soil; too much thatch accumulation or any tillage of the soil can be detrimental to their reproductive success. Wood nesting species need snags while bumble bees benefit from bunchy native grasses under which they can build a nest in the summer, and the queen may overwinter under the thatch.
Proper Grazing Management
The plants and animals on North America’s grasslands have long been influenced by herbivores – bison, elk, and others. Still today, grazing animals may positively impact floral resources. Attention to timing, duration, and intensity of grazing is a must in order to use the animals to maximize nectar and pollen production.
Fire is a paradox for pollinator habitat. It has positive landscape maintenance effects, removes thatch to provide bare ground for ground nesting bees, and burns completed during the winter months may stimulate wildflower blooms the following year. However, it can have detrimental effects because of the immediate habitat destruction. Low intensity burns that leave small unburned patches or leaving an adjacent area of habitat unburned can be a refuge from which the bees may recolonize.
As long as plants, animals, and, for that matter, people do not have an identity to us, they are of little concern. However, once we see their uniqueness, we begin to learn, observe, and appreciate them.
1. Arduser, Mike. 2010. Personal Communication 13 August 2010