Six years ago, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the designation of a week in June as "National Pollinator Week." This year, it is June 17-23.
This is a time for all of us to stop and say "thank you" to the pollinators we depend on for the food and flowers they foster. Take time to recognize the valuable services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.
Most of us know how heavily we depend on honeybees, but other pollinators are often overlooked. Today, let's take a look at some of those forgotten pollinators, and how you can encourage them right in your own backyard.
Did you know that there are more than a dozen species of bumblebees in Oregon? These generalist foragers visit many different types of flowers. Working in a different fashion than honeybees, bumblebees practice "buzz pollination." They grab on to the pollen-bearing anthers of certain flowers and buzz their flight muscles to release the pollen. This behavior is especially important in pollinating blueberries and cranberries.
If you have seen small to medium-sized bees, usually black or metallic — even bright green or yellow — you are probably seeing sweat bees. They, along with digger bees, are about the same size and shape as honeybees. Both sweat bees and digger bees are very common. Unfortunately, their yellow stripes mean they are often mistaken for wasps or yellow jackets. They are good general pollinators, too. Their bodies are covered with fine, light-brown or yellow hairs, and they carry pollen from one plant to another.
Digger bees are sometimes called mining bees because they are solitary bees that nest in the ground. Some folks lump all these pollinators together and call them "wild bees." While it's not a pleasant experience to be stung when you accidentally step on a nest, you can learn how to recognize nests and how to provided habitat for them.
While wasps and yellow jackets have value as pollinators, too, they are probably even more valuable as predators of the caterpillar stage of many harmful insects. Using their ovipositor, they lay eggs right in the caterpillar, and when the eggs hatch, the larvae use the caterpillar for food. They are also major predators of aphids.
Other pollinators include syrphid flies, also known as hover flies, butterflies and moths. Hover flies are also common predators of aphids and other soft-bodies insects. While they do feed on some pollen and nectar, they are acting as pollinators, too. Besides pollinating, butterflies and moths are delightful to observe in your ornamental garden!
There are three things you can do to help observe National Pollinator Week: First, provide a range of flowers — as many natives as possible. We keep eliminating fields, borders, ditches and places where native plants grow. See if you can provide some habitat for our friends.
Second, providing nesting sites for native bees is essential. Bees of all sorts usually sting only when they feel trapped or threatened. Learn more about native bees and how to recognize and encourage their nesting areas.
Third, avoid using pesticides. No pesticide knows the difference between the good bugs and the bad ones. And because helpful insects far outnumber harmful ones, we often end up killing the friendly ones when we start spraying every bug in sight.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.