The Plight of All Pollinators

Lately there has been a lot of publicity about the dwindling number of Monarch butterflies. My understanding is that an unexpected winter (sleet) storm drastically affected the number of Monarchs this March in their overwintering area in Mexico. As a result, thousands died, leaving a much smaller number to migrate north. This is devastating news as this iconic butterfly was already at risk due to factors such as loss of milkweed to feed on, drought conditions, insecticide and herbicide use, overwintering habitat loss, parasites, etc.

Group efforts have been underway, however, across the country to help the Monarch. Government groups, schools, agencies and individual gardeners have been planting the necessary Milkweed plant. People are starting to discover that without Milkweed for the Monarch larvae to eat, the Monarch will disappear. It is a great beginning, but Milkweed alone will not solve the problems that Monarchs and other pollinators face.

Another pollinator that is at risk is the honey bee. The population of honey bees has been dwindling for several years. These busy little critters are responsible for the production of so much more than honey. True, the honey they create is indeed delicious. But while they are creating the honey they are also performing a necessary service for other plants. Plants that are unable to pollinate themselves. Plants that need assistance to receive the pollen that creates their flowers and/or fruit or vegetables. In essence without the pollination process taking place, the plant will not bear anything but leaves. And we humans depend upon this pollination process to produce a huge part of our food supply. Honey bees pollinated $15 billion in annual US agricultural commodities–according to USDA statistics!

Other pollinators are also at risk. The same factors that are affecting the honey bees are also affecting other varieties of butterflies, moths and bees. Loss of habitat, environmental changes, use of herbicides and pesticides affect them all. Have you noticed a decrease in number of butterflies, bees and moths in your neighborhood? Surprisingly, it seems that having butterflies frequent a yard on a regular basis has become the exception where it used to be the norm. In years past, folks just took it for granted that all pollinators were available and would continue to do their work. The time has come, however, for this attitude to change.

Did you know that the loss of prairies and other native plants has had a huge impact on wildlife–including pollinators? It is not enough to plant just any type of Milkweed (for the Monarchs) and any type of flowering plant. These plants should be native to the area and provide specific resources for the pollinators. Butterflies, for example, need food for the larvae as well as nectar for the adult butterflies. These food sources should be available throughout the growing season. A gardener should, therefore, try to plant a garden that contains larvae sources (Milkweed, Fennel, Dill, etc.) as well as nectar sources (i.e. Coneflowers, Asters, Butterfly weed) that have different bloom times. This will ensure continuous blooms and food for all butterflies that visit. At least 2-3 sources of nectar should be available throughout the growing season for the butterflies alone. Native plants are preferred as the pollinators have adapted to them throughout the years and they tend to be hardier and more reliable. Much easier to care for as well 🙂 Planting native plants will also eliminate some of the threats that conservationists are concerned about. Things like the introduction of a plant species that may ‘invade’ and actually eliminate a species that already exists. Think Multi-Floral Roses or Bush Honeysuckle. Both of these plants were introduced in our area, have since become invasive, and taken the place of other native plants.

So how do you know which plants and flowers are native? And how do you know which plants will benefit pollinators? By asking others and conducting your own research. Check with the University of Illinois Extension or the US Department of Agriculture. Join an on-line organization dedicated to Monarchs or other pollinators. Become a citizen scientist and assist with the monitoring of the habits and numbers of butterflies. Dedicate an area of your own yard to pollinators. Sit outside, watch and wonder as these marvelous creatures go about their daily schedule. I promise you will be amazed!!

To get you started, below is a list of native pollinator plants for our Zone 5 area in central Illinois. This list is not inclusive. Many other native plants could also be great assets for your garden depending on your soil type and personal preferences. I am also including some simple things to keep in mind specifically if planting a butterfly garden.

Beneficial plants for pollinators in central Illinois.
* Smooth Blue Asters                   * Butterfly Milkweed
* Beard Tonge Foxglove              * Partridge Pea
* Wild Bergamot                           * Common Spiderwort
* Common Milkweed                  * Common Mountain Mint
* Black-eyed Susan                     * Blazing Star
* Purple Prairie Clover
* Coneflower (Greyheaded or Purple)
* Stiff Goldenrod

 Ideas to keep in mind if planting a butterfly (pollinator) garden.
– Location. Full sun.
– Shelter from wind and predators.
– Food. Nectar and foliage. Remember butterfly larvae will consume most of the host plant. One Milkweed larvae will consume 20+ leaves. Plant extra!
– Egg-laying/ breeding spot.
– Flat rocks for perching.
– Plants for all stages and all seasons.
-Water source. Butterflies like puddles to drink from.
– No pesticides or herbicides. Eliminate chemicals if possible. Commit to going organic.

For a small investment in money and time, you can become the envy of your neighborhood and the host of winged visitors throughout the growing season. Have fun while planting and growing your pollinator garden(s). Butterflies and other pollinators are truly one of Mother Nature’s marvels and life’s greatest pleasures!

The Simple Heart of Life herb shop offers free native Milkweed seed and information to anyone interested in helping the Monarchs and other pollinators. Feel free to post a message below, call or text 217-248-1508 or stop by the shop at 1486 Turkey Farm Road, Bluffs, Illinois 62621; 10 am-5 pm, Friday or Saturday, for seeds or more information. By banding together, we CAN help save the pollinators for future generations.

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