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The Importance of Pollinators

Pollinators like honeybees, butterflies, birds, bats and other animals are hard at work providing vital but often unnoticed services. They pollinate crops like apples, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, melon, peaches, potatoes, vanilla, almonds, coffee and chocolate.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. That’s one out of every three bites of food you eat. More than 3,500 species of native bees help increase crop yields. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects.

The Pollinator Partnership

The Pollinator Partnership offers 32 different planting guides to improve pollinator habitat, each one tailored to a specific ecoregion in the United States. Each guide is filled with an abundance of native plant and pollinator information. Enter your zip code to find your planting guide and download it for free here.

Pollinators visit flowers in their search for food (nectar and pollen). During a flower visit, a pollinator may accidentally brush against the flower’s reproductive parts, unknowingly depositing pollen from flower to flower. The plant uses the pollen to produce a fruit or seed. Many plants cannot reproduce without pollen carried to them by foraging pollinators.

You may have heard that bees are disappearing and bats are dying. These and other animal pollinators face many challenges in the modern world. Habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental contaminants have all contributed to the decline of many species of pollinators. Pollinators that can’t find the right quantity or quality of food (nectar and pollen from blooming plants within flight range) don’t survive. Right now, there simply aren’t enough pollinator friendly plantings to support pollinators. Learn more about how USDA is helping pollinators.

Learn more about these pollinators:

You can help pollinators in your garden at home. Pollinators make use of food and habitat anywhere it is found, whether on roadsides, in a schoolyard garden or a planter on a windowsill. Here’s how:

  • Plant Native Plants. Native plants are considered the best choice because of their abundance of nectar and pollen in addition to being low maintenance, generally pest free, drought tolerant, and ability to control erosion. They are good sources of food and shelter for wildlife, and naturally beautiful.
  • Spread Awareness. Educate others about the importance of pollinators and share how you planted for bees, butterflies, birds and other animals at home.
  • Plant a continuous food supply. Choose pollinator-friendly plants that bloom curing each of the three blooming periods -- spring, summer and fall. Include winter, if you live in a warmer climate. It is especially important to plant flowers that bloom in early spring and late summer so bees have adequate food when emerging from and preparing for winter hibernation. Plant in groupings (clumps) of each plant species for a greater impact.
    • Helpful Hint: Did you know dandelions are the first food for bees emerging in the spring. Leave them in your yard and feed the bees! Dandelion petals and leaves are also edible and can be used in salads.

  • Limit or eliminate use of pesticides. A healthy garden with the appropriate plant species and an abundance of pollinators will support natural beneficial insects—reducing the need for pest control.
  • Include a diversity of plants. Different flower sizes, shapes and colors, as well as varying plant heights and growth habits, support a greater number and diversity of pollinators. Include a combination of native plant species, heirloom plants and herbs in your pollinator garden. Common herbs such as rosemary, oregano, basil, marjoram, and borage are excellent bee plants. Allow unharvested fruits and vegetables to bolt (go to flower) for added bee food.
  • Install bat boxes. Bats are also pollinators that need our help. Leave snags for habitat or install a bat box. Learn more about the benefits of bats!