Southern Roots

The Power of Pollinators

Story and photography by Writer: P. Allen Smith

Planting annuals, perennials, and shrubs that attract pollinators help play an important role in the health of the garden.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bumblebees are beautiful additions to the garden, animating space and bringing additional life and color. But did you know that they are also incredibly useful?  Actually, they are critical to our survival.

Pollinators — those who move pollen from one plant to another to fertilize the plant — are not only important for preserving the health of our gardens, but they play an important role in connecting necessary links in our food chain.

In fact, the Pollinator Partnership reports that every one out of three bites of food we consume is brought to us by a pollinator. That’s pretty important! In addition to flower pollination, our small friends play a critical role in the production of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fibers, raw materials, and half of the oils we consume — in sum, over 1,200 crops we eat are helped by a pollinator.

Pollinators are also good for the planet, helping fight soil erosion by keeping plants healthy and proliferating. They even help the air we breathe by increasing carbon sequestration. Nearly all plants (between 75% and 95%) require the help of pollinators for healthy functioning.

When we think of pollinators, we often think exclusively of the industrious honeybee. But, there are so many others. The seven hives of Italian honey bees we keep at Moss Mountain Farm, for example, are an important addition to our landscape and organic ecosystem, and these pollinators dutifully work nearly year-round (and without complaint). They bring the most soothing and light buzz to our hollies, flowering shrubs, annuals, and perennials, as well as the herbs, flowers, and vegetables in our Acre Vegetable Garden.

There are many other species of pollinators besides the honeybee and butterfly. For example, bats (yes, the ones that fly in the air at night), flies, beetles, wasps (this may also surprise some readers), and even many small mammals are all pollinators.

Over the years we have intentionally added more pollinator-supporting plants to the farm, plants that spread across our meadows — even single containers of bloomers. You know what they say about “think globally, act locally!”

And it’s not as much work as you may think. I’ve listed some of my favorite pollinators — a mix of annuals, perennials, and shrubs to consider for home and business landscapes and containers.

The annuals are: salvia, zinnia, cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, marigold, larkspur, Bachelor Buttons, sunflower, petunia, and Cuphea (firecracker plant).

Perennials are day lily, Monarda (bee balm), butterfly weed, and Shasta daisy.

Pollinator shrubs include: Abelia, butterfly bush, althea (Rose of Sharon), rose, and bush honeysuckle.

The Pollinator Partnership has done good work in raising awareness. One of the easiest ways to help pollinators is to simply stop using insecticides and herbicides in gardens and lawns. The ubiquitous use of these harmful chemicals poisons our land and water, all the time destroying pollinators and their habitat. And, you can read between the lines on the impact this may have for our families, children, and pets.

There are other ways to help support the cause such as purchasing organically grown foods, especially from local farmers, or supporting businesses such as restaurants that source and serve locally produced organics. Check out businesses that have a “chemical-free” approach to their property maintenance, or even better, patron those that go a step further and plant pollinator-friendly installations in their commercial spaces.

Let me share with you a partnership with an Arkansas business doing just that. I hope this will be a model for other businesses in our region. I am working with First Community Bank and their Chairman and CEO Dale Cole, who is a visionary passionate about the health of our region. It was a no brainer when he shared with me his commitment to our communities that we could do incredible work together. Our partnership has installed over 23 “Pollinator Hot Spots,” beautiful pollinator refuges at First Community Bank branch locations. These garden locations help our hard-working friends and the plant life of the surrounding communities. So, it can be done!

I encourage everyone to consider what they can do at their home and business to support this critical part of our ecosystem. It’s good for our gardens, our landscape, our food, and our families.

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