Usually when people think of pollinators, the first thing that comes to mind is the honey bee (Apis mellifera). As important as honey bees are to pollination, there are a lot of other pollinators that are just as important. Native bees, Moths, butterflies, flies, bats, beetles, and wasps are all pollinators. There are over 4,000 native bees in North America alone. According to the Xerces Society, native bees are more effective then honey bees on pollinating on a bee-per-bee basis and also many native bees are active in colder and wetter conditions when honeybees are not.
Here are examples of plants that rely on pollinators other than honey bees.
- The primary pollinator for squash plants are native bees also referred to as "squash bees."
- Cacao (the plants that results in us having that wonderful thing called chocolate) is pollinated by only one insect – the Cacao midge which is a very tiny fly.
- PawPaw, a native Illinois fruit tree, is pollinated by flies and beetles only.
I'll receive calls and emails from individuals wanting to know what they can do to help pollinators in their homes and communities. There are plenty of little things we can do to help all pollinators in our yards and gardens.
- Leave those dandelions and violets in your yard. These are great sources for pollinators especially early in the season when there isn't much to offer. Also – violets are the only food source for 14 species of great frittilary butterfly larva.
- Eliminate the use of pesticides in areas where you are providing pollinator habitat. If you do chose to use chemicals in the garden, thoroughly read the label first and apply only according to label and avoid spraying plants in bloom if at all possible. In any garden – chemical controls should be a last resort. We encourage using IPM, Integrated Pest Management, which includes cultural, physical, biological, and chemical controls.
- Make sure to provide a diversity of flowering plants all season long. Great pollinator plants include wild indigo, coneflowers, black eyes Susan's, goldenrod, and milkweed to name a few.
- Avoid using weed cloth or extremely thick layers of mulch. There are a large number of solitary ground-nesting bees that need easy access to the ground, you can still use mulch just don't go overboard. It's even better if you can leave a few bare spots here and there.
- Provide water sources – trays, bird baths, etc. Just remember to change the water out at least once a week to prevent stagnation and to avoid it being a breeding site for mosquitoes.