Most dictionary definitions of pollinator will only mention classic insects such as bees and butterflies, but there is in fact a range of animals who actively contribute to this vital process. The entire human world relies on the constant and involuntary actions of hundreds of crucially important species for the health and sustainability of many of our industries, which in turn aid in our comfort and survival.
We need pollination to maintain our food and drink supply: crops such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains must undergo pollination to produce a harvest; in horticulture, the production of ornamental plants like roses, lilies, grasses, ferns, and all manner of other plants for landscaping reply on pollination; many of our medicines come from plants; we use trees for building materials, furniture, assisting with transport locomotion, fuel for our homes to stay warm and dry.
Only around 10% of all plants can self-pollinate, so the rest need other animals to do this work for them; ergo the successful pollination of plants is at the very crux of our existence. If those animals who provide this lifeline service were to vanish, we as a species would not be far behind.
Sadly, we are already too aware of this happening – in recent years, bee populations have been particularly hard hit, with some species facing extinction. But the outstanding efforts of activists around the world to make the public aware of the plight of bees has finally gained traction; now, many country’s governments or local authorities are pledging to ban or have already banned bee-killing pesticides called neonicotinoids from pesticide use.
One huge step many of us were convinced would never happen is that Bayer, the corporation responsible for producing Monsanto’s lethal pesticide Roundup™ or glyphosate, has declared it will stop selling Roundup™ in the Lawn and Garden residential market from 2023. Aside from the alleged carcinogenic threats to us, these pesticides have been used far too widely and liberally for many decades by practically anyone who wants to get their hands on them, which many see is a huge contributory factor to the state of the world’s declining pollinators.
But all is not lost – in the right circumstances, public awareness leads to public action. Nowadays more and more of us are learning how to right these years of wrongs, and we can do just this in our own backyards, with surprisingly minimal effort. Getting to know who to have around, and how to invite them in, is the key to having your very own pollinator paradise.
Who are the pollinators?
Birds are primary pollinators. Many bird species, such as hummingbirds, specialize in feeding on nectar-rich flowers, and in doing so, they are transferring pollen from one flower to another. In addition to their pollination services, birds also help control insect populations and spread seeds, contributing to the overall health and diversity of the ecosystem. But there are other pollinators: of course, the bees, responsible for pollinating about one-third of the food we eat, but also butterflies, moths, wasps, and small mammals all play critical roles in pollination.
Butterflies and moths are essential pollinators for many wildflowers; wasps are important pollinators for many species of figs and other fruits, while small mammals, such as bats, promote the pollination of species of cactus and agave, which in turn provide niche habitats for a plethora of species.
Even larger mammals like bears, boars and wolves assist in pollination via capturing spores and pollen in their hides and fur and transferring these tiny morsels of life throughout the forests as they move, sleep, and eat. However, unless you happen to own a large forest, we aren’t saying you need a couple of grizzlies hanging out in your yard. Just the birds, bees, other flying insects and little furry beasties will be more than enough.
One of the best ways to support pollinators in your yard or garden is to only plant native species, but most importantly, you have to let it become a little bit wild. There are no manicured lawns, tidy borders and straight trimmed lines in nature. By allowing native plants to grow and leaving some areas of your yard or garden untouched, you are creating the exact environment that exists where all life can thrive, given the chance.
By creating habitats that provide food, shelter, and nesting sites, and by avoiding the use of pesticides, we can help ensure that pollinators successfully complete their own life cycles in our world for generations to come. Allowing a garden to grow naturally not only requires minimal maintenance (just think of all the free time you’ll have rather than spending hours pruning and weeding, with more time to watch the birds!), but also throws open the doors to so many species that are suffering some of their worst declines in history.
Letting our gardens and yards become wild in places can be a beautiful and low-maintenance way to create a vibrant and diverse landscape that will support the thousands of species who help pollinate plants. The world would simply cease to be without pollinators – and we can all play our part in helping them exist.