Skip to main content

Native pollinators are important for our food supply

Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator

When it comes to pollination, honey bees get a majority of the attention. However, many insects play a role in pollination.

What is Pollination? Pollination occurs when pollen grains move between two flowers of the same species, or within a single flower. There are many ways that flowers are pollinated, including wind and animals.

According to the website about 75% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators and over 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. Of those, about 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats, and small mammals. The rest are insects such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths.

Pollination is critical for many of our food crops. Bats pollinate hundreds of food plants. Other pollinators of our most colorful healthy foods include native bees, other insects, birds, moths and butterflies, and more. Honey bees are not native here but are important pollinators of many of our food crops.

The Xerces Society has great information about pollinators on their website at, including how to attract them to your garden. The usual recommendation is to plant a diversity of native flowers.

The goal is to have something flowering all summer long. Examples in my yard include wild indigo and wild geranium that bloom in early spring, followed by penstemon and coreopsis at the beginning of summer. By mid-summer, the black-eyed Susan's and purple coneflowers are in full bloom. In the fall, asters and goldenrod make a show.

Typically, native plants require less care and can tolerate more of our weather extremes. However, I've found that some routine maintenance does help the garden perform better. This year I've tried very hard to deadhead individual flowers, which prolongs the blooming of many perennial plants. I've also cut some back when they finish flowering, which in many cases helps the plant foliage look more attractive for a longer period.

Learn how to create a pollinator pocket in your backyard at



As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.

After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.

ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.