Arkansas State Parks are committed to protecting our natural resources within the parks, including the native plants and their pollinators. That is why we are partners with the Arkansas Monarch and Pollinator Partnership. Lake Dardanelle State Park in Russellville has many “garden” areas throughout the park that are planted and maintained to benefit pollinators.
Pollinators are important not only to the plants they help pollinate, but equally important to people. In this article, we will focus on the needs of butterflies, moths, bees and wasps, and look at three ways you can help these vital pollinators: You can create habitat, let them do their natural duties and help monitor their populations.
American painted lady butterfly on purple coneflower
To more deeply understand the role of pollinators in our lives, we must begin by exploring who our pollinators are, what pollination is, and how they help us.
Pollinators are the creatures that move pollen from the stamens to the stigmas of a flower, allowing the flower to reproduce. For many people, the first creature that comes to mind is the honeybee. While they are very important pollinators that do help us, there are also many others that are native here, unlike the honeybee which was brought over from Europe. Pollinators can be any number of native bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, hummingbirds, and even bats in other areas of the country.
Wild hydrangeas bloom in large clusters of white flowers that attract not only butterflies but also beetles, bees and hoverflies. Pollinators play a key role in helping plants reproduce. This is important to people because it helps improve the air. More plants equal more oxygen production. By helping plants reproduce, pollinators also help produce billions of dollars in food crops each year. Pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food that we consume.
Cloudless sulphur butterfly on bee balm
Habitat loss is the biggest factor affecting pollinators. Think about it: When there are more buildings, there is less space for wildflowers and when more houses are built, there is usually more grass to mow. So, we must rethink how we look at habitat. With such diversity in our pollinators, there is also diversity in habitat needs.
For butterflies and moths, they need host plants for the caterpillars to eat, nectar plants for the adults to feed on, and shelter plants for protection during metamorphosis (the change from caterpillar to winged adult). Nectar plants are flowers with a somewhat flat area for the butterflies to land on. Shelter plants can pull double duty as a host plant and shelter plant, like spicebush.
The needed host plants are different for various species of butterfly and moth. Monarchs, for example, like milkweeds. Spicebush swallowtails like spicy plants such as sassafras and spicebush, and gulf fritillaries like passionflower vines.
That sounds like a lot of habitat to consider and might seem overwhelming, but planting for pollinators can take many forms. It can be anything from a small container garden, to changing the landscaping around your house making one or two improvements at a time, or even dedicating a huge field with pollinator-friendly plants.
Let’s look at the needs of some of our lesser thought-about pollinators: bees.
The Bee Buzz
There are various types of bees, and native bees do not all live in hives like non-native honeybees. Some use cavities in the ground, while others use hollow plant stems. You can help by leaving areas of bare ground for ground-nesting bees to use for cavity-nesting. By allowing areas to go un-mowed, you can give native flowers and grasses a chance to grow, producing nectar for the pollinators; then, bees can use the plant stems to lay their eggs in. You can also build bee houses: These consist of a variety of tube sizes bundled together. One idea is to use bamboo for the tubes. You can build a bee block by taking a block of wood and drilling different size holes in it for bees to lay eggs in.
Planting for Pollinators
If you decide to plant an area for pollinators, use plants that are native to your area. Native pollinators have adapted to feed on and pollinate native plants. Native plants can be more challenging to find in stores, but they are also already in your space if they are allowed to grow. If you stop mowing an area, native flowers will begin to take it over.
Allowing pollinators to perform their natural duties without trying to remove them gives the population a boost. That seems simple, but when a wasp flies near someone, a lot of times their first reaction is to swat at it. If you see bees and wasps, let them fly. Try not to swat them. Don’t spray them with pesticides. If we can keep from killing pollinators of all shapes and sizes, we will all be better off.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you try to attract one specific pollinator, you are likely to also get others. They all want the same thing: nectar and pollen. So, if you put out hummingbird feeders, for example, you will get bees, wasps, hummingbirds, and sometimes ants and flies. You are creating a party space for all pollinators. Everyone likes a good party, even pollinators.
Notice the bright orange sacks of pollen on these bees as they approach the blooms of a lead plant.
Community Science Projects
Community science is a neat way for everyone to help monitor pollinator populations. There are many ways individuals can contribute to research projects. For example, on the free iNaturalist app for mobile devices, there is an “Arkansas Monarch Mapping” project coordinated by the Arkansas Monarch Conservation Partnership, and the “Apoidea of Arkansas: Native Bees Project” with a goal to try and document all the native bee species in Arkansas. These are massive projects that need a lot of eyes and time to be able to find all these occurrences. You can help!
The State Parks of Arkansas also keep track of the flora and fauna found in their boundaries, so if you are visiting a state park, please share your nature sightings with the park staff so we can add your information to our Natural Resource Inventory Database.
You Can Make a Difference
Pollinators are important not only to the plants they help pollinate, but equally important to people. Creating an area for pollinators, no matter if you plant it or just let it go wild, will be rewarding for you and them. You never know who will show up at a pollinator party. You may get to see a pollinator you have never seen before!
Take a look at the space where you live: What changes can you make to create a pollinator “garden” party?
To find out more about pollinators, check out these sources: