What is a Pollinator?

Bob Vaughn, UM Extension Master Gardener in Anoka County, January 25, 2015

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A pollinator is an animal or insect that transfers pollen grains from flower to flower. There are over 200,000 different pollinators. The list includes birds and bats but is mostly insects. This group would include moths, butterflies, beetles and the one we are all familiar with, bees.  There are 20,000 different species of bees.

It is estimated that pollinators provide $10 billion worth of services in the USA. Successful pollination allows for seed and fruit production. Without pollinators the world’s food production would be in serious trouble. Some plants, crops can be pollinated by wind but most require a means of transfer.

The Department of Defense has reported that populations of pollinators have been in decline since the 1950’s. Many factors are involved, parasites, loss of habitat, climate change, and pesticides are some of them. Monoculture of large fields of one species like corn, soy beans or even a golf course, for example, also have a negative impact. This is called fragmentation; it can be somewhat mitigated by creating travel corridors that are not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Fence lines, wind rows and ditches or hazards or rough, in the case of golf courses, would be good locations for these. Pesticides and herbicides can have a negative or even fatal effect on pollinators.

What can we do to help?  We can help by making sure to plant things that attract and benefit pollinators. Not all flowers fall into that category. Color is an important factor in attracting pollinators, fragrance or smell is also a factor. By planting a wide variety of blooms and providing season long blooms we can help. Replacing some of our lawn or creating shoreline buffers using natives and plants beneficial to pollinators is another thing that will help. Adding wildflowers and native plants to our existing gardens can also help. Plant these in larger groups to help create targets for pollinators. Remember native plants and pollinators have adapted to benefit each other.

Controlling pests using an integrated pest management (IPM) approach is something else that can help. With reduced and appropriate use of pesticides and herbicides we can help keep our pollinators healthy and productive.  More information on IPM’s and plant lists for pollinators can be found at University of Minnesota Extension and Minnesota DNR.

Lady Bird Johnson: “Some may wonder why I chose wildflowers when there are hunger and unemployment and the big bomb in the world.  Well, I, for one, think we will survive, and I hope that along the way we can keep alive our experience with the flowering earth.  For the bounty of nature is also one of the deep needs of man.”