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Nature's Secret Connections

There are connections all around us. Some we know, like our extended family. Some we may not know as well, such as links from the past to the present. There are also connections we never see. Even though we may not be aware of them, connections in the natural world are of utmost importance to our well-being.

The Pollinator Connection.
To many people, bees and other flying insects are just pests. However, these creatures are pollinators. Bees, butterflies, wasps, hornets, flies, moths, ants, beetles, even birds and bats go from flower to flower in search of nectar and pollen for food. When they back out, some pollen has attached to them and they carry it to the next flower. This yellow pollen will fertilize the other flowers allowing them to grow fruits and vegetables. At least one-third of U.S. crops depend on this process. If unfertilized, citrus fruits, almonds, berries, squash, apples, broccoli, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, cantaloupes, avocados and much more would disappear from our tables.

The Plant Connection.
A native plant is one that occurs naturally without human intervention such as the plants that were present at the time Europeans arrived in the eastern United States. These plants have developed a flower structure that ensures pollinators will brush up against pollen as they feed. The native plant-pollinator connection is perfect. Some non-native plants brought as medicines by early settlers, including dandelions and lavender, also deliver nectar.

The Lawn Connection.
Now the pollinators come to today’s yards and public places. The most obvious of these are vast expanses of grass, requiring many resources to maintain it in the way modern society expects. This connection doesn’t link to pollinators in a positive way. Grass does not contain food, shelter, or places to nest. In addition, because the lawn is often loaded with chemicals it may even kill them. They don’t know we just sprayed that “weed” with an herbicide; all they see is a plant.

Making a Good Connection.
We have heard for some time about the decline of bees, Monarch butterflies, and other pollinators due to loss of habitat and dangerous chemicals in the environment. Now concerned citizens are taking up the cause to save these creatures by starting in their own back yards. There are many ways we can help pollinators.

  • Reduce the chemicals on the lawn. If you are fertilizing, reduce the amount used. Weigh the benefits of getting rid of unwanted “weeds” in the grass with the damage it does to the environment. Consider organic lawn practices.
  • Plant a native plant. Mix them in your perennial bed. Plant them along with your vegetable garden. Seed some in an abandoned field. Plant some in a pot. Grow pollinator friendly annuals like zinnias, sweet alyssum, calendulas, and flowering herbs in a window box. Ask your city to do the same on public property.
  • Give them a drink. All animals need water. Set out a shallow dish of water for the birds and the pollinators all year long.
  • Shrink the lawn. Cut out a section of lawn and replace with native shrubs, grasses and flowers, mix in your favorite non-native perennials if wanted. This small area will support pollinators and reduce your lawn workload.

Pure native plants are not so easy to find. Plant growers have filled garden stores with “improved” natives by changing colors, sizes, and other qualities. These designer plants often have flowers with little or no nectar and pollen. When shopping for a native plant, avoid named varieties like “Supreme Elegance” coneflower. Instead, get the real purple coneflower “Echinacea purpurea.” There are some sources for native plants and seeds: Havel’s Flowers, Mentor; Prairie Nursery, ; Avalon Gardens, Chardon, 440-286-2126, and Ohio Prairie Nursery, Hiram, Cuyahoga SWCD lists native plant resources and spring native plant sales here; and, LEAP has a great map of local nurseries that sell native plants here.

Yard by yard, we can provide a network of nurturing, safe spaces for pollinators across the neighborhood, the city, and the country. Now that we see the connection, we can help these often-unknown creatures that are so important to our survival.

Blog Author: Kelly Butauski, FOEC member

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