Supporting Pollinators: What to Plant

I read THIS article on Honey Bee Suite recently and found a few important takeaways that sparked this post:

     – A bee is not a bee is not a bee. There are thousands of species of bees and we often lump them all under “bee.”

     – In order for our fruits, vegetables and flowers to thrive, we need pollinators of all types. Certainly honey bees are important pollinators, they don’t just pollinate any flower.

     – We need to start caring for pollinators, in general, not only honey bees.

So here’s a quick overview of the flower differences for some common pollinators. Maybe you can refer to this when planting this spring (assuming spring ever arrives).

**There is definitely a lot of overlap here. Many of the flowers listed under “bee favorites” can also be found under “butterfly favorites.” However, some lend themselves more readily to one species or another and the timing is important too. For example, dandelions are pretty much the first flowers we see in spring (in Michigan). So while various species may pollinate them, they are incredibly important to honey bees because they represent the beginning of the nectar flow and the end of “hibernation,” so to speak.

Bees, in general

Bees can’t see red and are likewise attracted to the colors of yellow and blue/purple. In fact, bees are also capable of seeing UV, which helps guide them to flowers rich with nectar and pollen:

Bees not only see flowers in different colors than we do, bees also see ultra-violet light patterns, invisible to us, at the center that are a different color than the rest of the flower.   From a bee’s-eye-view, the UV colors and patterns in a flower’s petals dramatically announce the flower’s stash of nectar and pollen.  These UV patterns serve as a landing zone, guiding the bees to the nectar source. (West Mountain Apiary)

In addition, bees use smell and are attracted to flowers with a sweet scent. When looking at a flower, you can figure out the size/shape of it’s pollinator by studying the size/shape of the flower. Bees work in sturdy flowers with a “landing-platform.” The bees typically crawl into the flower. Pollen sticks to the bee’s “fur” or they collect it in their pollen sacs on their legs. Bees work in flowers where the nectar is at the end of a small, narrow tube- one that’s just the right length for the bee’s tongue.

Consider the snapdragon: The bee is just the right size and weight that, when it lands on a flower, the snapdragon “opens” and the bee can easily access the nectar.

source

When you’re considering your garden, remember that bees are heavier (compared to butterflies) an polinate by crawling around the flower. Think about flowers where the nectar is shallowly located, white, yellow, or violet in color and fairly sturdy.  Here are a few bee favorites:

* * * * *

Dutch White Clover

Purple Coneflower

Thistle

Meadow Sage

Dandelions

(More ideas for bee-friendly plants HERE)

Butterflies

Butterflies have good vision, but no sense of smell, so they are attracted to brightly colored flowers (especially red) and are not attracted to scent. Similar to bees, they require flowers with a “landing-platform,” but are able to negotiate a more delicate flower.  Butterflies typically walk around a flower or flower cluster and probe with their long tongues. Butterflies, then, are able to pollinate flowers with deeper nectar and also flowers that are a bit more delicate. Here are some butterfly favorites.

* * * * *

Milkweed

(also hugely important food for caterpillars)

Verbana

Zinnias

Black Eyed Susan

Coreopsis

(More ideas for butterfly-friendly plants HERE)

Moths

Since moths are mostly nocturnal, they rely on strong scent as well as flowers that reflect brightly off the moonlight. Moths are most attracted to whites and pastel shades. They also (for obvious reasons) require flowers that stay open at night and prefer wide, flat flowers. The Moonflower is a good example:

Birds

Hummingbirds, specifically, are attracted to bright colors (especially red) and, like butterflies, have a poor sense of smell, so scent is not important.  Hummingbirds hover while they feed, so they require flowers with petals that curve backwards (like the Moonflower above). Other hummingbird favorites:

* * * * *

Foxglove

Hostas

Impatiens

Azaleas

Morning Glories

(More ideas for hummingbird-friendly plants HERE)

Other Pollinators

There are also bats, flies, ants and beetles. These polinate a variety of plants too and really like the flowers that smell stale, musty, or rancid (your favorites too, I’m sure).  And under the category of “bees” alone we have bumblebees, honey bees, solitary bees and mason bees. Additionally, wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets are all crucial to pollination as well.

Ultimately you can’t go wrong if you plant a variety of flowers and avoid pesticide/insecticides.  I know many of these bugs are pesky in the summer, but try and keep in mind that they are a necessary evil so that we can enjoy flowers, fruits and vegetables. That’s a pretty fair trade-off, in my opinion.

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3 thoughts on “Supporting Pollinators: What to Plant

  1. That’s awesome! Bees are so interesting and highly addictive! Our neighbor who has gardened his land for years before we moved in with our bees, said he’s had higher fruit and vegetable yields since we started beekeeping. Not sure that’s a scientific measure, of course, but I’ll take the credit! 😉 Look forward to following you too. Thanks for reading!

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