Celebrate Pollinator Week: Support your pollinators
Much of the focus of pollinator week is on our food supply. Every third bite of food we eat depends upon pollinators. But since 2006, the colony collapse disorder of the European honeybees has alarmed the beekeeping experts. Honeybees have been used as pollinators for hire. Beekeepers move their hives into an area where a large crop (often a monoculture) awaits pollinators in order for fruit to be formed. For example, a female squash flower, needs to be visited eight to ten times by bees or wasps that have also visited the male flowers for a fruit to form.
The Pollinator Partnership is the sponsoring agency for the pollinator week. They encourage you to "Invite pollinators to your neighborhood by planting a pollinator friendly habitat in your garden, farm, school, park or just about anywhere!" They provide many resources including posters of pollinators and guidelines and suggested plants to use in your landscape. Note: these are quite broad and most of Florida is included in the Outer Coastal Plain Mixed Forest Province, (an 11 MB pdf file) with a range from the Mid-Atlantic states to eastern Texas. You'll have the most success, if you also use more local resources for native plants suggestions such as the FNPS website: www.fnps.org.
In addition, the Pollinator Partnership keeps a calendar of pollinator events and allows you or your group to add an event to their calendar for free publicity. What are you waiting for?
What does a European bee and huge agricultural crop production have to do with the Florida Native Plant Society?
The problems of large agriculture operations can serve as a trigger to help ordinary people, like you and me, take action. Plus, our native pollinators are extremely important for native fruit production, which feeds our birds and other wildlife.
We can all have a positive effect on our neighborhood or community ecosystems by encouraging the pollinators. Smaller edible gardening operations can rely solely on the native pollinators for fruit production, if the growers use organic methods for crop production and use ecosystem gardening. This means that in areas near their crops, the growers plant native plants (or simply allow them to grow), build brush piles, and leave some areas of soil un-tilled, uncovered, and unmulched so solitary bees and wasps have cover and places to build their nests.
See my post "Jaret Daniels and His Charismatic Pollinators" for details on his program working with Florida farmers. They include several rows of native wildflowers in the midst of, or at the edge of, their fields. Research has shown that when these rows are left untilled for several years, that the pollinator count is much higher.
To prove this point, here are some links to old Palmetto articles:
1) A 1995 piece by Roger Hammer, "The Coontie and the Atala Hairstreak."
Roger includes some detailed history. Did you know that a product made from the root of our native coontie was used as an ingredient in Animal Crackers? He relates how the atala hairstreak was almost lost:
"Several factors probably contributed to the atala's initial demise, including habitat destruction, freezes, hurricanes, spraying for mosquitoes, larval food competition with the echo moth (Sierarctia echo), over-enthusiastic butterfly collectors, and--most devastating of all--the wholesale harvesting of its larval food plant.2) "Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants" by Eve Hannahs was published in 1984. She advises,
"Fortunately for the atala, and for the butterfly gardeners of southern Florida, a small population persisted (or re-colonized from the nearby Bahamas) on Key Biscayne in Dade County. This population was discovered in November, 1979, and local conservationists began to rear larvae on cultivated coontie plants and move them back into natural areas within the atala's historic range."
"To have resident populations of butterflies in your own yard, food for the larvae must be included in the garden. … And, of course, you may nevermore use insecticides or pesticides. (In 1979, Butterfly Conservation was adopted as a state project for The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, Inc. to educate the members concerning the plight of the butterfly, and to encourage saving butterfly habitat and the planting of "butterfly gardens." The project was so successful that it was adopted by the National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc. in 1983, and is now promoted nationwide.)3) "Butterfly Counting" by Mary Keim was published in 1993. The subtitle is "Finding butterflies involves finding the plants they live on." She related that the Christmas butterfly count over a 15-mile-diameter area was organized and carried out by various FNPS members on June 26, 1993. She said,
"Butterfly watching is a natural offshoot of your enthusiasm for native plants. Find and join a butterfly count next year, and get started on your butterfly garden."
Florida Butterfly Gardening by Marc C. Minno & Maria Minno, University Press of Florida, 1999.
Here is a link to a review by Sharon LaPlante from a 2000 Palmetto
Your Florida Guide to Butterfly Gardening by Jaret Daniels, University Press of Florida, 2000.
Adding butterfly and other pollinator habitat and food sources for both larval and adult stages makes a big difference. Just look at the success of the atala hairstreak butterfly, which was on the brink of extinction here in Florida. You don't want to lose more species on your watch do you?
Let us know what you do for pollinator week (and every week) to improve the situation for pollinators in your neighborhood.
Bee happy! And butterfly happy, too.