June 15–21, 2015

061615_smaller_beeEight years ago, the U.S. Senate proclaimed the third week in June as National Pollinator Week to help publicize the decline of pollinator populations and to promote gardening and agriculture practices that nurture these essential species. The Pollinator Partnership was formed as a resource for accurate information and to spread the word. From their website: Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The growing concern for pollinators is a sign of progress, but it is vital that we continue to maximize our collective effort. 

In that spirit, I present a simple primer on pollinators with links to find more information pertinent to your “pollinator zone.”

Why Do We Need to Help Them?

Native bumblebee on cone flowerPollinators worldwide are declining due to a variety of reasons including: loss of habitat, misuse of chemical herbicides/pesticides, invasive plant and animal species, disease, and parasites. In the U.S. alone over 50% of the managed honeybee colonies have been lost. In addition, there is evidence that pollinators are disappearing from natural settings, causing them to be listed as endangered. Much research still needs to be done to determine the exact causes for these losses. In the meantime, those of us who garden can create environments that will help them survive.

Who Are the Pollinators?

Most bees, moths and butterflies, certain birds and bats, and some beetles and small mammals are responsible for transferring pollen from flower to flower and thus fertilizing them for successful seed and fruit production. Pollination is absolutely essential for the production of various fruits, vegetables and spices; plant-based fibers; and some medicines—without it much of the life on earth would starve.


Honeybee on Mountain BluetThough all bees engage in pollination, honeybees are the most efficient. Sadly, they are also the most endangered. The home gardener can do much to encourage bees to visit. My own blogpost on creating a bee-friendly garden has simple tips and a ton of links.

Butterflies & Moths

Pale swallowtail on Mountain ColumbineThough butterflies are not as efficient as bees at spreading pollen, they are still beneficial. And, unlike bees, they can see red! When the butterflies head to bed for the night, the moths take over pollinating nocturnal flowers. The Xerces Society is a great resource.


Anna's Hummingbird sips from Bee BalmIn the continental U.S., pollination is the job of the various hummingbirds. I have both Anna’s and Rufous as regular visitors to my garden in Seattle. Tropical areas like Hawaii and Australia have birds that hone in on nectar. These are usually colorful birds like the brush-tongued parrots of New Guinea. Tips for attracting hummingbirds can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.


Lesser Long-nosed Bat in ArizonaThough the Pacific Northwest has only bats that feed on insects (a beneficial job in itself), many of the plants and cacti of the Southwest depend on them for pollination. To find out more about the bats in your area, see the website for Bat Conservation International.

What Can We Do to Help Them?

The Pollinator Partnership provides these simple tips:

Plant for pollinators

  • Cultivate native plants, especially those that provide nectar and larval food for pollinators
  • Install houses for bats and native bees
  • Supply salt or mineral licks for butterflies and water for all wildlife
  • Use organic gardening methods for weed and pest control
  • Substitute flower beds for lawns

Watch for pollinators

  • Join the Pollinator Partnership
  • Volunteer for pollinator-friendly organizations and garden groups
  • Experience time outdoors and work with plants and animals
  • VOTE!  Make your voice be heard for conservation and pollinators

Reduce your impact

  • Buy locally produced or organic food
  • Walk, cycle, use public transit, carpool, telecommute
  • Reduce, recycle, reuse