The buzz on pollination

Celebrate National Pollinator Week June 16-22
By Rachel Robles, Lifestyles editor | Jun 17, 2014
Photo by: Jean White CELEBRATE POLLINATORS — Pollinators, like this Monarch butterfly, are essential to the health and sustainability of the ecosystem.

The eighth annual National Pollinator Week, established by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2007, has been underway since June 16 and will continue until June 22.

National Pollinator Week is an international celebration of pollinators — bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles — and the services they provide to the ecosystem.

Pollination is the process by which plants reproduce, when pollen is transferred from the male to female parts of a plant. This can be done in a variety of ways, but in the wild, plants rely on pollinators.

“Three-fourths of the world's flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce,” said Kathy Taylor, past president of the Haywood County Bees Association and current co-owner of KT’s Orchard and Apiary in Canton. “Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have apples, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate, almonds, melons, peaches or pumpkins.”

Of course, we wouldn’t have honey, either.

“The bee, in its lifetime, will only produce one teaspoon of honey,” said Taylor. “Fifty to 80 percent of flying bees collect nectar and make one to 29 trips per day. A bee's full load of nectar is 85 percent of its body weight. To collect 150 pounds of honey, in mileage, equals 13 round-trips to the moon.”

It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination.

“Humans need plants to survive and need to think about insects being the bridge between plant energy and food sources in the food chain,” said Jean White, an avid nature lover and trained naturalist. White grows several varieties of native plants and pollinator host plants. The abundance of plants in her garden provides a healthy habitat for butterflies; she has several caterpillars, chrysalises and butterfly inhabitants.

“Life is fueled by plants,” she said. “Butterflies lay eggs on the native host plant of their choice, and then comes the caterpillars that become the chief food supply for many baby birds, which become the food supply for larger birds and animals, and etc.”

Unfortunately, pollinators are not without their problems. One of the primary goals of National Pollinator Week is to raise awareness of environmental issues that affect pollinators.

“Our pollinators face many problems — habitat loss, disease, parasites and the environment,” said Taylor.

“If we continue to landscape for beauty or aesthetics instead of sustaining plant and animal life for our pollinators there will at be a collapse,” said White.

Monarch butterflies, for example, are classified as a Near Threatened species, which means that the species may be in threat of extinction in the future and depend on conservation efforts to prevent from becoming a threatened species.

The reason for the classification is because of the eradication of milkweed, the only plant on which it will lay its eggs.

Bees are in the same boat.

In addition to viruses, parasites and bacterial infections, the bee population in the United States has been greatly affected by Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon in which worker bees from a colony suddenly disappear.

“It is an uphill battle considering all they have to contend with,” said Taylor. “Land being developed disturbs their natural habitat, the use of certain pesticides, varroa and tracheal mites, hive beetles and the list goes on.”

The good news is that gardeners and pollinator enthusiasts can give pollinating insects a leg up with relative ease.

“We can each make a contribution by planting a few native plants and trees on our little piece of earth no matter how small,” said White. “Native insects need native plants. If you have nectar plants to entice them and the host plants for them to lay their eggs, you have a winner.”

The Haywood County Extension Office, located at 589 Raccoon Road, Waynesville, has a wealth of resources regarding native plants, beekeeping and general gardening advice. Call 456-3575 for information.

The Historic Haywood Farmers Market will celebrate National Pollinator Week from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 21, in the parking lot of HART Theatre. There will be children’s activities, honey tasting and food and recipes that include honey.