Most of us have come to understand that pollinators are critical for our food supply and without them, we would cease to exist. They are threatened by loss of habitat and loss of food sources. Some pollinators have evolved with and are dependent on a particular plant as a food source for themselves and / or to raise their young.
The beautiful and well-known monarch butterfly is a great example of an insect that has evolved to be supported by a single plant to raise its young. The adult feeds on the nectar of various flowers, spreading pollen as she goes from one to the next. But she must lay her eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The larvae hatch and feed exclusively on the milkweed leaves until they go into their chrysalis form. If there is no milkweed, the monarch has no place to lay her eggs and the larvae have no food.
So it is with many insect species - they need a native plant to survive and that plant needs them.
The honey bee has gained much attention as a pollinator, but is not actually native to the US. In addition, while it is not dependent on a single plant, there are many that it cannot work because of its relatively short proboscis (straw-like tongue). I do not wish to disparage the fuzzy little darlings. I am a beekeeper myself; but they are not the entire, or dare I say, most important, solution to saving the intricate, delicate web of our ecosystem.
How to save the pollinators?
Mow less. Mow at the highest setting. Let dandelion, clover and other plants complete their flowering and seeding process. You can do this by allowing an area of your lawn to just grow for a few weeks.
Skip the herbicides. They are deadly to so many life forms and they create a monoculture that is useless and rather boring.
Remove invasives - they are nearly all imported from Asia and lack the biological controls of their homeland. Without natural predators, they run wild and crowd out natives. Our native pollinators are not evolved to feed from them. Consider removing imported garden plants and consider replacing them with native plants..
Plant more natives in garden areas. Start with a small area of native plants and continue adding more year after year. They will attract and support native pollinators. What should you plant? Do some research on your area. Or, if you are in the northeast… Grab a copy of this great new guide:
Lorraine Johnson, Sheila Colla. A Northern Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants and Pollinators: Creating Habitat in the Northeast, Great Lakes and Upper Midwest (Washington: Island Press, 2023.