You can do your part to help the pollinator population thrive in our area by planting and maintaining a garden with pollination in mind. The key to attracting pollinators to your yard or garden is planting native plants, said Bob Bryerton, an interpretative naturalist for the Forest Preserve.
Because native plants are designed to thrive specifically in our climate, planting them strengthens the entire ecosystem.
“Native plants are important because that’s what the critters are used to here,” Bryerton said. “The more native stuff you have, the healthier the system is and the more resilient it is.”
Native plants also attract pollinating birds and insects to your yard, including hummingbirds and monarch butterflies. And while bats are not typically pollinators in Illinois, they are a critical part of the ecosystem, so having a garden rife with native plants helps ensure a healthy habitat for them as well.
“If you have a good pollinator garden, you’ll get butterflies, you’ll get bees, you’ll get hummingbirds,” Bryerton said.
One benefit for gardeners who want to dedicate space for a pollinating garden is that many native plants are perennials that will return year after year and require very little labor to keep them healthy and thriving, he said. And with a healthy and thriving garden, you’ll attract a multitude of birds, bees, bats, butterflies and other insects to your garden. This, in turn, helps ensure both the animal and plant species will thrive locally.
In our area, for example, butterflies are plant-dependent, meaning if the plants they use as hosts are not pollinated, those species will go extinct, Armstrong-Ullberg said. One example is the Karner blue butterfly. These butterflies, which were once found in significant numbers in and around the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Northwest Indiana, are dependent on the nectar from wild lupine. In addition, their caterpillars feed on the lupine leaves. However, in 2012, during an unusually warm and early spring season, the caterpillars emerged from their cocoons before the lupine plants had grown, causing the butterfly population to drop in the dunes area, Armstrong-Ullberg said.
The dwindling bee population has garnered a lot of headlines in recent years, and for good reason. Bees are one of the world’s primary pollinators, and their numbers have been in steep decline over the past several years.
In Illinois and throughout the Midwest, the rusty patched bumble bee has historically been a well-populated and broadly distributed species, and it helps pollinate tomatoes, apples, cranberries and other plants. In 2017, the rusty patched bumble bee was placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the past 20 years, the bumble bee’s population has declined by an astounding 87 percent, the Fish and Wildlife Service reports, and it is present in only 0.1 percent of its historical range.
Armstrong-Ullberg said experts believe the rusty patched bumblebee’s population decline is caused by several factors, including intensive farming and the use of pesticides.
These examples illustrate the important symbiotic relationship between native plant and native animal species and how they create a healthier environment for all species, including us.
To contribute to a thriving natural habitat locally, you can be mindful of the plants you put in your yard and garden and make an effort to plant native plant species. One of the benefits of this will be the wealth of critters you attract to your yard, including butterflies, hummingbirds and other songbirds and a multitude of insects, including the bees that are so critical to our existence.
“It’s like a living laboratory out there,” Bryerton said.
Here’s a look at some of the plants you should consider planting in your own yard to contribute to a healthy habitat for pollination.