The Millerton-North East Pollinator Garden has been planted entirely with native shrubs and perennials. This is because natives provide more food choices and shelter for our birds and insects. To survive, insects and birds need plants that have co-evolved with them in the same environment. Nursery plants often come from other countries. Many have leaves that are not edible to local insects and caterpillars. Says the Audubon Society, “With 96 percent of all terrestrial bird species in North America feeding insects to their young, planting insect-proof exotic plants is like serving up plastic food. No insects? No birds”—and no pollination.
For example, more than 550 different species of butterflies and moths are supported by native oak trees, while the nonnative ginkgo supports only five, insect researcher Doug Tallamy learned. Caterpillars are the main food source for many migrant and resident birds alike. In the 16 days between hatching and fledging, Tallamy found, a clutch of Carolina Chickadee chicks are supplied by their parents with more than 9,000. The insects lucky enough not to get eaten become pollinators and ultimately produce food and beauty for us humans.
If you like to have birds around, plant natives. (See below for sources.) An Audubon study of suburban properties in Pennsylvania found “eight times more Wood Thrushes, Eastern Towhees, Veeries, and Scarlet Tanagers (all species of conservation concern) in yards with native plantings as compared with yards landscaped with typical alien ornamentals.”
Natives also help insects and birds withstand the dangers of climate change by providing a familiar home, a place to rest, to lay eggs, to eat, and to pupate. Nonnative species don’t offer the same protection and may even be toxic.
A Little About Bees
While birds and bats pollinate flowers and flowering trees, insects are the largest group of pollinators. They include bees and wasps. They consume pollen, meanwhile carrying the pollen that clings to them from flower to flower where it falls off, giving the new flowers the genetic material they need to reproduce and generate new seeds in the form of fruits and nuts all of nature can consume, including us.
Honeybees are not native to North America; they were brought here by early settlers from Europe and are now so well integrated in our ecosystem they might as well be home-grown. Bumblebees are native; they have about 50 species North America. Many other bees are native. They tend to be termed solitary because they live alone and not together in hives or nests. They pollinate about 80 percent of all flowering plants.
There are some 4,000 species of native bees. Here are some of the largest categories:
Bumble bees: These are large and furry, black with stripes of yellow, white or light orange. They are more social than other solitary bees, live in small colonies with a queen and workers in a nest in the ground.
Miner bees: These are medium to large in size, mostly dark, black, reddish or metallic blue, yellow or red and yellow. They are active in early spring when favorite flowers are in bloom such as azaleas, which honey bees cannot pollinate. They nest in the ground.
Mason and leaf-cutter bees: These are dark-colored or blue, carry pollen on their abdomens not on their back legs where most pollinating insects do. Mason bees make mud nets in early spring, before the honey bees emerge. Leaf-cutters makes nests by cutting holes in leaves to extract building material in summer and early fall. Their nests are above ground.
Sweat bees: These are quite small and shiny metallic green, blue copper, or gold, and so called because they are attracted to perspiration. They nest in holes of wood or hollow twigs.
While most bees and wasps can sting, they do so only when startled or to protect their queen. If one lands on you, be still. Enjoy observing. Soon it will fly away, its curiosity satisfied. Yours, it is hoped, will be stimulated.
If you would like to help with the Pollinator Garden email Mary Lynn Kalogeras at firstname.lastname@example.org Or just come by for a short or extended look. All are welcome!
A few native-plant resources and recommendations
- Better Homes & Gardens magazine
- This in-depth, informative site ultimately seeks to connect gardeners with local nurseries. The information is free and first rate.
- A personal site with a free weekly newsletter and archive.