Of the world’s more than 240,000 species of flowering plants, approximately 75 percent rely on pollinators. These crucial creatures help transfer pollen from male to female flower parts and ensure the survival of the next generation of plants — and the animals that depend on them. Pollinators include insects like bees and butterflies in addition to birds, bats and other animals.
Some of these pollinators are drawn to flowers because of the nutritional value of the pollen itself, while others are lured by nectar, resins and fragrances. As they travel from flower to flower, they move pollen within individual flowers and also from one plant to another. Some plants rely on a particular pollinating companion — the magnolia family, for instance, which includes the Fraser magnolia and tulip poplar, is exclusively pollinated by beetles.
But while pollinators are a vital link in the natural world, they are also increasingly at risk. There is much that science does not know about the various bees, like honeybees and bumblebees, that are managed by beekeepers for agricultural purposes. Even less is known about how native, wild insects are faring. According to a National Research Center review, for those North American pollinators where long-term data is available, population numbers are trending “demonstrably downward.”
Yet between cultivating native flowers and eliminating herbicide and pesticide use — or at the very least, adhering to best practices for those chemicals — there are a number of ways people can assist the countless bees, bats, birds, butterflies, beetles, flies and more that keep Appalachia blooming.
In this issue, meet some of the region’s pollinator species and learn more about what residents can do — and are already doing — to help.