National Pollinator Week is June 19 – June 25, but summer is an odd time of year to celebrate pollinators. The big honey bee migration to California’s almonds ended in March. Bees, birds, bats, and butterflies have finished their work on spring fruit trees. Sure, zucchini buds beckon, but even Dipteran pollinators (flies) slacken visits to entomophilous flowers. Now that summer is happening, our biggest pollinator is unseen (the wind!), but it’s as busy as a bee, blowing pollen from wheat flower to flower – doing its job without much notice. (Did you know that more than two-thirds of the food we eat is pollinated by wind or gravity?)
Among the more unusual/ignored pollinators are bats, toads, and mongooses (mongeese?). The BBC has a fun page that talks about mongoslings which transport pollen while snacking on nectar (to wash the taste of cobra from their mouths, I suppose). BBC also mentions the elephant shrew which uses its elephant nose to probe flowers for pollen and nectar, spreading goodies from blossom to blossom. (Incidentally, this mouse-sized creature is genetically closer to elephants than shrews – as you can see from its face.)
In China, some farmers carry little brushes into orchards, dusting pollen on pear and apple blossoms. In areas bordering Tibet, apple crops must be hand-pollinated by humans. These are areas so remote and rugged that it’s not possible to haul in native eastern honey bees (or any other non-human pollinators). Although wind and gravity may do some apple pollination work, Wired magazine credits local farmers with doing “100% of the pollination” – depending on variety and need for cross-pollination, that might be true. Both Wired (Will We Still have Fruit if Bees Die Off?) and Huffington Post (Startling Effect of Shrinking Bee Populations) claim that the impending extinction of bees has caused humans to hand pollinate. They are wrong. Read their articles and see for yourself.
So, National Pollinator Week has a wide variety of pollinators to celebrate: Birds, bats, toads, butterflies, shrews, humans, gravity, and wind. We, of course, want to give due credit to bees. After all, they help pollinate our gluten-free favourites: squash and blueberries. (Not to mention apples, almonds, rambutan, mangos, kidney beans, canola, and kiwis. And a few dozen more.)
Yesterday, a friend asked me what she could do to encourage pollination in her garden. I fumbled for an answer. Do you buy a hive of bees, bring in leaf cutters, masons, bumble bees, or elephant shrews? Or do you plant flowers that will attract bees, shrews, and maybe humans to your backyard? If it’s bees you are after, you might like to look at this website: http://www.pollinator.org/guides. You’ll find excellent (really excellent) guidebooks that will help you decide what to plant to attract bees and butterflies to your own garden. Though, alas, no mention of attracting shrews, mongooses, or humans. You’re on your own with those.