Help Save the Pollinators

From the January 2020 issue of  The Wren, SVT's member newsletter.

Related articles:

Creating Places for Pollinators
Why Native Plants Matter
Planning a Garden for Native Pollinators
Unexpected Heroes of Pollination

 

Just as you shelter indoors from the January cold with blankets and a warm beverage, insects also seek protection from winter weather. Many take shelter in leaf litter, in stems and branches, or underground. Others, like the monarch butterfly, migrate southward before cold weather sets in. 

When spring arrives, and trees and flowers start budding, insects emerge to forage for food. Soldier beetles collect sugar-rich nectar from golden alexanders and wild geraniums. Bumblebees gather pollen from wild rose bushes and willows. While foraging, insects incidentally provide an essential service that we all depend on: pollination. 

As they flit about, insects like bumblebees and butterflies transfer pollen from the male parts of one plant to the female parts of a different plant of the same species. This keeps populations of trees, wildflowers, and other plants healthy and diverse.

Yet over the last two decades, the populations of these pollinators have been dropping. The primary reason? Loss of habitat. The native plants where insects eat, shelter, and lay their eggs have been crowded out by development and by non-native invasive plants. The lack of pollinators has a detrimental effect on the health of our forests and flowers, as well as on the health of the native birds and amphibians that eat insects to survive.

But all it takes to turn this trend around is a little yard space and some gardening tools.

By planting just a few native wildflowers such as blue wood aster, red columbine, and orange butterfly milkweed, you can create a colorful garden that pollinators will love. In addition to providing the necessary nectar and pollen, you’ll also provide a food source for the caterpillars of native pollinators that feed only on the leaves of native plants. When enough people transform a small patch of their backyard into a pollinator garden, we’ll have a regional network where insects can thrive. 

To inspire people to use more native plants, the Metrowest Conservation Alliance (MCA), of which SVT is a member, has formed a Native Pollinator Task Force (NPTF). The NPTF is encouraging municipalities and local land trusts to create pollinator gardens on public lands, and the group hopes to motivate homeowners to fill their gardens with the native plants needed by declining pollinators.

Learn about other ways that people are helping native pollinators, and get some tips for planning your own native plant garden.