Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are a charming sight as they soar around your backyard garden. But beyond their beauty, these creatures help human beings through their role in pollinating flowers, vegetable plants and fruit trees. Here’s how they perform this important task and how we can create a sustaining environment for them in return.
Bees are a gardener’s best friend, due to the essential role they play in helping non-self-fertilizing plants to produce fruit, vegetables and seeds. Bees’ fuzzy bodies (which pollen grains stick to easily), small size, regular trips to flowers to obtain food for themselves and their young, and habit of visiting only one type of flower per day all make them super-efficient at transferring pollen. Much of the pollination in commercial agriculture, as well as home gardens, is performed by bees. Unfortunately, since the end of the 20th century, bee populations, especially honeybees, have been on the decline, probably as a result of pesticide use, parasites and climate change.
Butterflies and Moths
Longer- and thinner-legged, butterflies collect a smaller amount of pollen on their body parts than do bees. They make up for this, though, by their ability to fly long distances and cover wide areas of flowering plants. Plants whose flower contains a pollinium (sticky clump of grains of pollen), such as the milkweed, do lend themselves to efficient pollination by butterflies.
Fellow members of the order Lepidoptera, moths are generally better pollinators than butterflies, perhaps owing to their hairier, plumper bodies. There is one species actually known as the “hummingbird moth.” Unlike most moths, this unusual creature is diurnal in its habits and resembles a hummingbird because of its long proboscis and the way it hovers over blossoms while producing a distinctive humming sound. Not surprisingly, the hummingbird moth is excellent at pollination.
Hummingbirds, with their long beaks and tongues, are able to reach inside deep tubular flowers to obtain the nectar they crave. (The birds’ fast metabolism and almost constant motion create a need for a high caloric intake. Although their principal food is insects, nectar gives them energy for bug hunting). As they move from one bloom to another to feed, hummingbirds spread the pollen which has stuck to them.
How We Can Help Them
Of course, these species are valuable not only for their pollination abilities but also as part of Planet Earth’s biodiversity. We can give back by making our gardens a healthy environment for them. The most fundamental way of doing so is giving up the use of dangerous pesticides. These harm not only bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, but also the insects that hummingbirds require as part of their diet. Make sure that drinking water is available in your garden, changed frequently to avoid breeding mosquitoes. Although special “hummingbird food” is marketed, you can create your own inexpensive, additive-free version by mixing one part white sugar to 4 parts filtered water; hummers will especially enjoy this mix served in a bright red feeder and changed frequently. Butterflies appreciate flat rocks or other perches to rest on. Fill your yard with indigenous local plant species. For example, mountain heather and bog cranberry are native to Washington State and will attract bees to your Seattle landscape.
Finally, ask the EPA to ban the pesticides linked to bee deaths by signing this Care2 petition.
By Laura Firszt, Networx.