Choose: Fecund or Moribund?

A honeybee collects pollen in a close-up picture of a flower.Three years ago the widespread collapse of bee colonies slowly began to find real estate in mainstream media. Large populations of bees were mysteriously turning up dead all over the country, and a few bright minds began to wonder what would happen if all the bees disappeared. 

Bees aren’t the only pollinators—bats and butterflies also fulfill this essential function—but if bees were to disappear from the planet, the ripples across the food chain (birds losing bees to eat, plants losing their major pollinator) would leave humans with four remaining years to exist. 

What can we do to encourage pollinators to stick around and thrive? Gary Johnson, professor of Urban and Community Forestry, sees many positive contributions being implemented. “First and foremost would be the interest that has been steadily growing in edible landscapes and wildlife gardens. Gardeners are selecting plants that are not only pretty but bountiful, such as chestnut crabapple, black chokeberry and sweetberry honeysuckle,” he says. “The collateral impact on the landscape is that these fruit- or seed-producing plants are inherently a source of sustenance for pollinators.” 

Minnesotans seem to be taking a more proactive role in breaking away from monoculture, in trees as well as in groundcovers, which is good for both biodiversity and resilience. Along with this, “more garden centers and bedding plant growers have reduced the use of neonicotinoids in their production practices and are labeling those plants that are free of them,” Johnson says. 

Yet we have far to go. Well-intentioned landscapers may design “pollinator gardens and rain gardens that are often deficient in woody plants, which are also efficient pollen producers.” Similarly, not enough responsible information is being disseminated to homeowners about best practices for lawn care and pest control. 

What can you do? Celebrate Arbor Day and Month by taking two walks with the professor April 28 and May 5 as he shares his knowledge of Pollinator Pleasers: Life-Saving Trees and Shrubs.