On farms and college campuses, across cities and along roadways, people in the United States are planting to attract pollinators and create habitats where they can thrive.
Pollinators are more than just the humble honeybee — other insects, such as native bees, beetles, flies, moths and butterflies also pollinate plants, as do birds and small mammals such as bats. They are vital to our global ecosystem, especially when it comes to agricultural production. Between 75% and 95% of all flowering plants and crops require pollination from these creatures, and scientists say we can thank a pollinator for one out of every three bites of food we eat.
Christine Gemperle has been an almond farmer in Ceres, California, since 1999, following in the footsteps of her Swiss father. About 10 years ago at a conference, Gemperle learned about solutions for bee colony collapse — what happens when worker bees leave their hives and the queen behind.
To prevent collapse, Gemperle planted cover crops throughout her almond orchards, alternating mustard greens and clover to spur pollination. She implemented other bee-friendly practices too, like reducing pesticide use.
And it worked. More butterflies, native bees, moths and birds have flocked to her farm.
“In the 25 years I have lived here, I have never seen a monarch butterfly,” she says. “Last year, we had five sightings.”
Planting more homes for pollinators increased production, reduced pesticide costs and grew local ecosystems. And the soil health, Gemperle says, has never been better.
Gemperle also made her house’s yard pollinator friendly by adding a clover lawn and native wildflowers. “It’s pretty remarkable,” she says. “I started seeing species of bees that I have never seen before.”
A growing movement
Gemperle isn’t alone: Thousands of Americans are planting for pollinators.
Reed Lievers, with the nongovernmental organization Pollinator Partnership, says that the organization has helped farmers restore over 200,000 acres of farmland. (More are signing up than ever before, not just in the United States, but also in Canada and Australia.)
Beyond agriculture, officials and residents are planting for pollinators in cities, on college campuses and in other public spaces — like along highways and interstate roadways.
Laura Rost of Bee City USA — a subsidiary of the nonprofit organization Xerces Society — says that 182 cities and 166 university campuses in 46 states (plus the territory of Puerto Rico the city of Washington) meet the nonprofit’s criteria to be certified as bee friendly.
Rost also says that in a recent two-year period, Bee City affiliates created over 2,500 habitat projects on 3,800 acres and engaged 1 million people in the conservation efforts. Suburbanites are finding that it’s less maintenance to have more natural gardens that help pollinators.
“Planting more pollinator-friendly plants provides [pollinators] with shelter and nutrition, and more resources to raise their young and avoid predation,” Lievers says.