Over 180,000 species of flowering plants rely on insects, birds and mammals, as well as the wind for pollination. Animals look to the plants for nectar, a source of sugar, and for pollen, a source of protein. As animals visit the flowers, they transfer pollen from male to female flower parts. Thus, plants and pollinators depend on each other for survival. Plants rely on pollinators for reproduction and pollinators rely on plants for food. In the northeastern United States, the major groups of pollinators include bees, beetles, butterflies and moths, flies, and birds, especially hummingbirds. Any animal such as bats, opossums, ants and wasps that visit flowers for any reason can also be valuable in the pollination process.
But why care about pollinators? Pollinators are responsible for a third of what we eat every day! And I like to eat! Don't you? Most fruit and vegetable crops, nuts, seeds, fiber crops (like cotton), and hay to feed livestock rely on insects for pollination. The estimated value of animal-pollinated commodities (food and fiber) that are directly or indirectly used by humans is in the billions of dollars just in the United States alone. But pollinator populations are declining in abundance and diversity especially the bees, butterflies, bats and hummingbirds. Extensive pesticide use and misuse, habitat destruction, monoculture crop systems (only planting one crop species over large areas year after year), invasive plants, and climate change all have a negative impact on pollinator populations.
Although humans are part of this problem, they are also part of the solution. Here are some things you can do to help out the pollinators:
- Talk with your center director or pest control operator about the importance of using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods for managing pest problems in the landscape areas and in and around the building. IPM focuses on pest prevention and using the least toxic chemicals, if any, to control pest issues. Choosing safer products or eliminating pesticide use around and in your child care facility will not only benefit the pollinators, but also the health and well-being of you and the children in your care.
- Plant a pollinator friendly garden. Think big, but start small. Choose a small area or plant in a large tub. When starting a pollinator garden strive for:
- abundance - plant in clumps or drifts
- diversity - plant flowers with different shapes, colors and scents
- sequence - plant for bloom succession, not all at once
- local - whenever possible, choose local plant species native to your region
- Young children are naturally curious about the world around them. Take them outside and introduce them to the amazing world of insects. Spend time observing what critters visit the plants and flowers found around your center.
Additional pollinator information can be found on the Penn State Center for Pollinator Research website.