Pollinators need your help.
You may wonder why anyone would welcome bees into their outdoor living space. Relaxation and stinging insects just don’t mix, you may be thinking. However, once you realize how valuable bees and other pollinators are and how much they need our help right now, you may reconsider inviting them into your yard. Planting Trees that offer pollen and nectar is a simple but effective way to support the efforts of these hard-working and important creatures.
What is pollination?
Pollination is the transfer of pollen grains from the male part of a flower to the female part, thus fertilizing the flower and allowing seed and fruit to form. Bees and other pollinators perform this service while collecting flower fuel in the form of pollen (protein) and nectar (carbs). Around 80% of the world’s flowering plants depend upon animals for pollination (the others are wind-pollinated).
Why is pollination important?
It has been estimated that a third of our diet is made up of food or drink that originated from flowers pollinated by animals. Pollinators bring us such staples as apples, berries, peaches, cherries, melons, almonds, coffee, and chocolate.
Pollinators are also crucial to the diets of many animals. According to the Xerces Society, 25% of birds and mammals eat animal-pollinated fruits and seeds as a major part of their diet. Even the mighty grizzly bear falls in this category!
Who are our pollinators?
Honey bees receive most of the glory when it comes time to give thanks to our pollinators, and they do perform most of this important work in our orchards and fields. But there’s an incredible diversity of native bees (honey bees are actually European imports) and other pollinators that do their share, too. The Xerces Society reports that there are 4,000 species of bees native to the U.S. and that there are 45 species of native bumble bees alone!
Many native bees are solitary dwellers that live in the ground or in small cavities in dead wood or plant stems, and the vast majority of them are non-aggressive. If you get stung by a black and yellow insect, it will most likely be a yellow jacket, which isn’t a bee at all, but an extremely territorial wasp.
Our pollinators are in peril.
Pollinators have often been in the news in recent years, and little of the news has been good. Pollinator habitat is being destroyed to make way for condos and cornfields, pesticides are taking their toll on unintended targets, and diseases are wreaking havoc.
Honey bees have been hit hard in the past decade by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which causes worker bees to abandon their hives. The disease isn’t well understood, although pesticides, poor nutrition, and parasites are thought to be factors. In the 2015–2016 season, CCD contributed to the loss of 44% of the honey bee colonies across the U.S.
What can you do to help?
Clearly, our valuable honey bees—as well as our native bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and other pollinating friends—could use all the help they can get. So, what can you do?
- Stop spraying pesticides, especially those with neonicotinoid chemicals, which are known to harm or kill bees. Because of these concerns, we do NOT use neonicotinoids at the Bower & Branch Nursery.
- Let your landscape get a little rough around the edges or in an out-of-the-way spot. An area with wildflowers, long grass, unraked leaves, and a couple of snags (standing dead Trees) or stumps is much better wildlife habitat than a perfectly manicured but barren expanse of lawn.
- Plant lots of flowers! Flowering Trees are especially useful, because they offer a great wealth of pollen and nectar in one stop.
Which Trees should you plant for pollinators?
When choosing Trees for pollinators, you want to make sure there are plenty of blossoms for them to dine on throughout the growing season.
In most neighborhoods, there’s a frenzy of flowers in early spring when Cherry Trees, Purple Leaf Plums, Pears, and Magnolias bloom, followed by Serviceberries, Eastern Redbuds, Chokecherries, and lots of Apples and Crabapples. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt to plant more of these Trees, you and your neighbors probably have this time of year covered. To give pollinators a boost, you’ll most likely want to focus on other times of the year.
Give early-foraging bees their first meal of the year with Trees like Red Maple, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, and American Elm, which flower before the Cherries.
Then turn your attention to Trees that flower after the Cherry/Magnolia/Crabapple Blossom Frenzy. Here are some of the best late spring-, summer-, and fall-blooming Trees for pollinators, in order of bloom time:
‘Winter King’ Hawthorn is a native Tree with white flowers that settle on the horizontal branches like freshly fallen snow.
Native Black Locust offers sweetly fragrant clusters of white blossoms that are pollinated by bees as well as hummingbirds. The variety ‘Twisty Baby’ has fun curlicue branches.
The majestic native Tulip Poplar has tulip-shaped leaves and tulip-shaped green and orange flowers in abundance in late spring.
Purpleleaf Catalpa is a bodacious Tree with orchid-like white flowers. The blossoms lure in hummingbirds and other pollinators.
Pollinators go crazy for the cream-colored blooms of Japanese Tree Lilac, which waits until all other Lilacs have finished to put on its show. ‘Ivory Silk’ is a fine selection of this species.
Littleleaf Linden, such as ‘Greenspire’, is a bee magnet. The jury is still out on Silver Linden, though—the flowers can have a narcotic effect on bees, and according to some reports, they can actually knock bees out!
Golden Rain Tree calls to pollinators far and wide with its cheerful yellow summer blooms. This tough Tree thrives in just about any sunny, well-drained spot.
The ‘E.H. Wilson’ Mimosa Tree churns out its pink powder-puff blossoms over a long season. ‘Summer Chocolate’ Mimosa adds chocolatey brown foliage.
Lacy sprays of white Sourwood flowers erupt in summer, and they yield a delicious honey after bees work their magic. This native Tree also sports fiery red fall color.
Crape Myrtle, a staple in the South, offers summer and early fall blossoms in shades of red, pink, purple, white, and lavender that are constantly abuzz with pollinators.
And last but not least, consider planting the uncommon but easy-to-please Seven Sons Flower. In late summer and fall, the butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds will swarm its white, jasmine-scented blooms like paparazzi.