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.
Pollinators by Numbers
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.
How Animal Pollination Works
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.
Pollinators Are in Trouble
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.
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.
You Can Help 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:
- Complete a Wildlife Assessment. One of the first steps in creating new habitat for pollinators is to first assess and evaluate your existing space. Habitat assessments can be great tools to identify practices where you can improve or confirm good practices you already have in place. The Xerces Society has several different habitat assessment guides for different types of landscapes or specific insects. The Habitat Assessment Guide for Pollinators in Yards, Gardens, and Parks is a great resource for small and urban sites, including urban farms. The Pollinators: Farms and Agricultural Landscapes and Beneficial Insects: Farms and Agricultural Landscapes and two other great options for assessing agricultural lands. For more information on providing ground, stem, and cavity nesting sites and overwintering sites, be sure to check out Xerces guide on Nesting & Overwintering Habitat for Pollinators & Other Beneficial Insects.
- Types of Habitat. There are several habitat opportunities and strategies you can use to invite pollinators into your urban farms, gardens, or yards. Pollinator habitat can beautify your space, increase native biodiversity, increase pollination services and biological control of “pest” insects, and provide community engagement and learning opportunities. Often for smaller scale gardens in urban areas, plugs or transplanted plants from pots are preferred over pure live wildflower seeds.
- 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.
- Plant a continuous food supply. Make sure you have at least 3 different species throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons to provide adequate food when pollinators emerge from and prepare for winter hibernation. Plant in groupings (clumps) of each plant species for a greater impact.
- 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 pollinator plants. Allow unharvested fruits and vegetables to bolt (go to flower) for added pollinator and beneficial insect food.
- 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.
- 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!
- Spread Awareness. Educate others about the importance of pollinators and share how you planted for bees, butterflies, birds and other animals at home.
Did You Know:
There are more than 3,600 species of bees in the U.S. and approximately 70% percent of these bees nest in the ground?