Plant for Pollinators You can provide beautiful, vital habitat for pollinators by adding pollinator-friendly plants to your yard and landscape. Enjoy colorful blooms all season long that bring many beautiful butterflies and other pollinators to your yard. It’s easy to do. Whether planting just a few pots or a larger garden, you can do real conservation at home to support our pollinator friends as they do their job to keep our environment healthy. Take the Plant for Pollinators Challenge 3 easy steps: Plan your garden. Choose the best plants. Register your garden and order an optional yard sign. Share the challenge with your friends and help us reach our goal of registering at least 500 pollinator gardens in 2019. Together, we can make a big difference for our littlest friends and most important neighbors! Why plant for pollinators? Pollinators are trending! And why not? They are fun, beautiful, kids love them, and they connect us with nature. They pollinate up to a third of our food, and—primarily because of the plight of honeybees and monarchs—awareness of their declining numbers is increasing. More people planting more pollinator gardens can do much to improve the situation, and it makes our yards and communities more beautiful. There are other reasons to plant a pollinator garden. First the activity itself is healthful. Research suggests that gardening increases human health—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Furthermore, research suggests that living among plants improves overall well-being tremendously. This is why many hospitals invest heavily in gardens; it facilitates healing in their patients. Perhaps the strongest reason to plant for pollinators is to advance the health of the greater ecosystem. In addition to pollinating flowers, some pollinators prey on or parasitize plant pests such as aphids, soft scales, and whiteflies. A healthy population of pollinators improves the health of all plants, cultivated and wild, which, in turn, support all wildlife and human beings, supplying us with food, habitat, and a livable planet. Maybe you’ve never thought of it this way, but your yard is in fact an ecosystem. Even a poor landscape is an outdoor space that is home to a variety of plants and animals. Nurturing a rich diversity of plants in your yard dramatically benefits the ecosystem and supports pollinators and other wildlife, and by doing so you also increase the health of your plants and our world! Common pollinators In Ohio, the primary pollinators are native bees, honeybees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Sometimes beetles and other insects perform this important duty, too. It should come as no surprise that pollinators pollinate plants not just for the greater good, but because they are simply after a meal. It just so happens that when they sup at a flower, they’re also moving pollen from plant to plant, which fertilizes the plant’s flowers so it can make seeds. Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera) – Butterflies and moths bring beauty and joy to all people, and, because of that, they bring more people to gardening than any other pollinator. Adult butterflies and moths depend on nectar for their sustenance. Ironically, the young of Lepidoptera could be considered garden ‘pests’. These are caterpillars that feed on the leaves of host plants. In a balanced and healthy garden, damage to plants is minimal. Caterpillars go through instar stages. In the final stage, they cocoon and emerge as adults. Native Bees – North America is home to over 4,000 native bees, including mason bees, sweat bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees, and squash bees. They are extremely efficient pollinators, and some are strikingly beautiful. They live in a variety of habitats, including bare ground, wood, and stems. You can even provide nesting sites for them. Honeybees – Honeybees originate from Eastern Europe. They have been cultivated for thousands of years for their efficiency in pollinating crops and for the highly desired honey they produce. They were among the first animals moved by Europeans to the New World. Wasps – Wasps scare a lot of people, but most are utterly harmless. Most people have no idea how incredibly important to a balanced and healthy ecosystem they are. While they are indeed efficient pollinators, they are also vital as predators that prey on other insects, including crop and garden pests such as scales and aphids. Wasps either feed directly on them or parasitize them for their young to feed on. Unfortunately, some wasps will parasitize the caterpillars of butterflies and moths, but this is part of the natural order. Diptera (Flies) – Like wasps, flies have a major public relations problem, but most species look nothing like the nasty house, horse, and black flies that at times torment our very existence. Like wasps, in addition to pollinating flowers, they also prey on pests and keep the garden ecosystem in balance. Do they sting? Bees and wasps are known as much for their painful stings as they are pollination. The fact is that many cannot even sting people, and very few will sting a person unless swallowed, stepped on, or when their nest is threatened. When busily feeding on flowers or otherwise going about their business, it is almost impossible to provoke them into stinging. While some wasps and carpenter bees might occasionally “get in your face”, usually they are just trying to usher you away from their nest and or the place they hope to mate. Avoid spraying wasp nests, wear shoes, be careful with your drinks outdoors, and simply enjoy bees and wasps as they diligently do their work keeping your yard balanced and pollinated! Follow Pollen Nation on Facebook to keep up with the Zoo’s efforts to protect pollinators.