Although a few plants rely on wind or water for pollination, most of the world's crop plants (75%) need pollinators to reproduce. Many people don't realize that a high percentage of the food we eat exists because of pollinators. Pollinators visit flowers in search of food (nectar and pollen) and during this visit often come in contact with a flower's reproductive parts, depositing pollen which is necessary to produce a seed for that plant.
Who are These Pollinators?
It has been estimated that there are up to 200,000 different pollinators worldwide, including (but not limited to) bees, butterflies, bats, birds, beetles, and moths. Hummingbirds are the most common avian pollinators in the United States. Bats, particularly fruit bats in tropical regions, are also major pollinators as well as valued insect eaters. The lowly beetle is often overlooked, a mistake as they comprise 40% of all insects. Flies are common visitors that get around to many plants and flowers during their day's work. A wide variety of butterflies (over 700 in the U.S. alone) pollinate while seeking nectar during the daytime and moths, their nocturnal counterparts, pollinate as we sleep.
A Clear and Present Danger
However, this incredible long standing relationship is threatened because many of these pollinators are in danger. All over the western world in the last 10 years, bees have died at more than twice the usual rate in what is known as colony collapse disorder. Destruction of habitat by housing developments, clear cutting of forests, urban sprawl, and compromised immunity due to viruses, parasites, and other environmental contaminants (herbicides, pesticides, and chemical dumping) are often named as suspected or contributing factors to this decline. However, a recent Harvard study strongly indicates Neonicotinoids, a class of neuro-active insecticides in wide use since the 1980's, as the likeliest culprit.
What You Can Do
There are a number of ways you can help. Choosing a mixture of landscaping plants that vary in color, shape, and scent that flower in spring, summer, and fall will attract pollinators by providing a steady food supply year round. Reducing or eliminating the use of herbicides and pesticides on your landscape will create a healthier environment for all. Finally, incorporating plants that are pollinator friendly such as blueberries, cherries, plums, dogwoods, willows, and poplars will help tremendously.