In recent years we have seen a greater awareness of the importance of pollinators like birds, butterflies, and bees. But what about all the other pollinators that form our ecosystems? Find out what we’re overlooking with this selection from The Pollinator Victory Garden by Kim Eierman.
If you are interested in growing milkweed for monarchs, see How to Collect and Grow Milkweed Seeds.
Essential Pollinators and Ecosystems
This selection from The Pollinator Victory Garden by Kim Eierman is provided with permission from Quarto Publishing Group who also provided a review copy of the book.
Before we dive into this selection from the book The Pollinator Victory Garden—which I highly recommend—let’s look at the big picture.
In recent years we have seen a big increase in pollinator awareness with many more gardeners understanding the important role they play both in our gardens and nature.
But much of the attention has focused on just a few species, overlooking others.
For many years the pretty and enchanting ones—birds and butterflies—grabbed the eco spotlight.
Then, with multiple threats to bee populations, a new awareness of the importance of bees took hold and these once-feared insects became something to attract and protect.
The message spread to Let Them Bee and provide habitat to support their needs. And no complaints here: bees absolutely play a pivotal role in nature.
But what about all the other pollinators?
Bees are the most important pollinators for food crops—including and not limited to honey bees—providing an estimated 80% of insect-based crop pollination (USDA).
But this is just one part our ecosystems and many other pollinators also play important roles.
In addition to bees, there are numerous other animal pollinators and they too are key players in the countless interdependent relationships that make nature work. They are each in the food chain while also providing other services. Keep reading for examples.
We’ll know we’re really moving toward an ecologically sustainable world when we plant and conserve to support entire food webs—not just certain species we’ve come to admire.
Related: 20 Spring-Flowering Bulbs That Feed Pollinators
Bees and Beyond: Types of Pollinators
Most animal predators are insects. While bees are arguably the best-known animal pollinators, beetles, butterflies, moths, flies, and wasps are other pollinators you will most likely attract and support in a Pollinator Victory Garden.
Types of Pollinators
Insects | The largest category of animal pollinators.
- Bees – the most important group for pollination of food crops
- Beetles – largest group of insect pollinators
- Butterflies – often incidental pollinators, but some are very important
- Moths – usually nocturnal, some species are active during the day
- Flies – often be mimics; identified by only one pair of wings
- Wasps – less efficient pollinators than bees; specialist wasps on figs, orchids
- Ants – nectar-loving but not very effective at pollination
- Mosquitoes – limited pollinators of certain native orchids
Birds | Pollinating birds include hummingbirds, spiderhunters, sunbirds, honeycreepers, honeyeaters, and some parrots.
Mammals | Pollinating mammals include some species of bats, marsupials, monkeys, lemurs, and rodents.
Lizards | Pollinating lizards are found mostly on islands.
You may also be able to entice nectar-eating birds (nectivores) such as hummingbirds and orioles, depending on your location.
Hummingbirds are the largest group of pollinating birds in North America, with an estimated 350 species.
Some bird pollinators even specialize in pollinating specific plants, such as the white wing dove, which is an important pollinator of the saguaro cactus in Arizona.
Bats as Pollinators
In tropical and desert areas, bats may be important pollinators to support in your landscape. More than 300 types of fruit, including mangoes, bananas, and guavas, depend on bat pollination. Even the saguaro cactus and agave plants are pollinated by bats.
Mosquitoes, Ants, Mammals, Lizards
Less common pollinators include certain species of mosquitoes, ants, and even some mammals and lizards depending on your country and region.
Which pollinators are important? All of them.
If they have evolved in your locale, they are part of your ecosystem and they have ecological value.
Bees and Beyond
It can be difficult to convince people to garden for pollinators besides bees.
The fact that bees are even being considered in gardens means that we have made much progress in the last decade or so.
Not long ago, butterflies, and perhaps hummingbirds, were the only pollinators that were truly welcome in a majority of landscapes.
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Bees were often viewed as the wards of beekeepers or inconvenient wild creatures to be avoided and feared for their sting, certainly not creatures to be encouraged in managed landscapes.
Much of this be fear was based on misinformation; most bees are quite docile and will usually only sting if they are threatened around their nesting area.
Now that home gardeners are starting to embrace bees, we need to expand our ecological horizons to garden for all types of pollinators.
If we do not, we will lose even more species.
Biodiversity is the key to healthy ecosystems and a critical tool in fighting climate change.
A healthy garden system is one that is full of many living creatures, including pollinators.
Plant diversity = animal diversity.
In your garden, include a diversity of native plants, such as trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials, that have a multitude of shapes and sizes to attract a greater diversity of pollinators.
Related: How to Grow a Pollinator-Friendly Front Garden Without Freaking Out Your Neighbors
Buy the Book
by Kim Eierman
Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening; Attract and Support Bees, Beetles, Butterflies, Bats, and Other Pollinators
Want Lots of Pollinators? Grow a Diverse Selection of Plants
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛