It’s time to think twice before you swat at bees while you’re gardening. Chances are that the bee is a pollinator, and its role in your daily life is more important than you realize. Many of the foods you eat, herbal supplements you enjoy, and beautiful plants you love to see only exist because of the work of native pollinators.
If you’ve never considered anything more about a bee other than their sharp (and sometimes painful) stingers, pull up a chair. These important pollinators have crucial jobs, and we’ll explain what they are, what they do, and why you should care.
By the time we’re done, we’d bet the next time you spot a few wild bees buzzing about, you’ll gladly leave them to their work.
What are Pollinators?
Plainly stated, pollinators are insects, birds, or other small animals that help pollinate plants. For an organism to be considered a pollinator, it must carry pollen from the male part of a plant (the stamen) to the female part of the same or another like plant (the stigma).REF#2813
Angiosperms, which are flowering plants, represent the most diverse cross-section of plants on the planet. To support these pollinating plants, we need pollinators. More than 200,000 species of animals and insects are identified as pollinators.
The most common pollinators include:
- Numerous (but not all) bee species
- Birds (especially hummingbirds)
Some creatures are intentional pollinators, like bees that intentionally collect pollen. Others simply pollinate by chance, whether they move pollen on plants through movement, or collect water or nectar from the plant itself.
What are the Most Common Pollinators?
The most common pollinators are bees, with more than 16,000 species worldwide. Bees were imported from Europe in the 17th century, and now the United States is home to more than 4,000 different species of bees.
What are Bee Cities?
The Gaia Herbs farm in Western North Carolina is located near two important Bee Cities: Asheville and Hendersonville.REF#2814 These cities are designated as such because they are committed to providing and maintaining ecosystems that protect and encourage pollinators.
By using natural resources and helping native plants thrive, these cities are contributing to:
- Sustainable food sources REF#2813
- Cleaner air REF#2813
- A bustling economy REF#2813
It’s hard to imagine little insect pollinators contributing to these platforms, but they do all of this and more. Let’s look at how pollinators do their work.
Why are Pollinators Important?
From the moment you wake up and smell the fragrant roses in your garden, you’re experiencing the work of busy pollinators. The first sip of your Fair Trade organic coffee is also brought to you by pollinator-friendly farms that depend on pollinator populations to grow the beans that result in your morning cup of joe.REF#2815
Pollinators touch practically every part of our lives without our knowing. This is how they’re working right now, as you read.
Sustainable Food Sources
Much of the world’s food sources depend on the pollination of plants. According to the USDA, a whopping 35 percent of the food plant population depends directly on animal pollinators (read: native bees, butterflies, and insects) to continue healthy growth and production.REF#2816
It’s estimated that one in three bites of food in your diet only makes it to your mouth because of the pollination services of these animals. Foods that rely on pollination include:
When pollination communities decline, food production takes a hit, and the world’s food supply is threatened.REF#2816
The ability of plants to clean the air is well established, and about 75 percent of the world’s plants depend on pollinators for reproduction.REF#2813 When populations of pollinators begin to decline, air pollution becomes more prominent.REF#2817 Air pollution can further cause pollinator numbers to decline.REF#2817
A Bustling Economy
What do bees and butterflies have to do with the economy? A lot more than you think! In North America alone, pollinators were responsible for over $29 billion in crop production in 2010.REF#2813
Without pollinators, we experience the side effects of ecology collapsing on a local and global level. Crops die, food sources become threatened, the air becomes polluted, and economies suffer loss.
Unfortunately, the populations of pollinators is on the decline.
Understanding Pollinator Declines
Without proper protection, pollinators are becoming extinct. Here are a few reasons that our pollinators are declining:
- Pesticides: The continual use of pesticides on crops by traditional American farmers has reduced populations of pollinator communities.REF#2819
- Deforestation: Continual removal of acres of forests diminishes populations of all wildlife living there, including pollinators.REF#2820
- Extreme weather from climate change: Changes in climate create unusual weather patterns that threaten the survival of some plant species and make it difficult for certain populations of pollinators to survive.REF#2821
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed adding seven types of Hawaiian bees to the federal list of endangered and threatened species in 2016, and in March 2017, one bumblebee, known as the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) became the first bumblebee added to this list.REF#2818
This is great news because of how it affects our interactions with these buzzy friends, but it’s just a first step in a laundry list of actions needed to help protect pollinator communities.
Back to the Bees
Bees are especially susceptible to declining populations. Each year, Bee Informed Partnership surveys beekeepers in the United States to get a better understanding of honeybee declines and to develop collaborative efforts to help support them.REF#2822
In March 2017, beekeepers reported a 33 percent loss of bee hives from the previous year, equating to one in REF#2822 beehives on average. While this might not seem like an astronomical number, it’s far from the safety of zero losses at all.REF#2822
Why Do We Need Our Pollinators?
Plainly stated, pollinators do the work we can’t. It’s impossible for us to properly pollinate one-third of the world’s population of plants. Even if we were physically able to do it, we just simply wouldn’t have the manpower.
In addition, we can’t rebuild entire ecosystems. When portions of them are lost, they become extinct. Protecting them is vital to the delicate structure of our world.
Our dependence on pollinators is vital to our ability to thrive as humans, and our ability to have a thriving, healthy planet. At Gaia Herbs, we depend on pollinators to help sustain the herbs we grow on our farm.
Echinacea, Vervain, Valerian, Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, and many other medicinal and adaptogenic herbs rely on pollinators for growth. Without them, we can’t produce the certified organic, pure, and potent herbal supplements you trust for total body care.
The Gaia Difference
We founded our company on the principle of doing right by both plants and people, and never sacrificing one principle for the other. We honor the wisdom of nature and understand we are all connected. We honor and protect the parts of nature that can’t speak for themselves, including pollinators.
We have always and continue to employ organic farming practices, not just for our customers, but in honoring Gaia herself and all creatures with whom we share the planet. We appreciate and understand the significance of every person, every bee, and every butterfly. Every living thing has a specific and purposeful reason for existence, and our work is to honor and acknowledge it.
How We’re Helping Pollinators
Because pesticide use threatens pollinators, we maintain 350 acres of pesticide-free food for our pollinators. We do not use any insecticides, and encourage pollinators on our farm.
We also maintain beehives on our farm in an effort to actively support pollinators and pollinator communities. As a result, we have access to nutrient dense, delicious honey and more fertile, healthy plants. Because our organic farm requires an integrated pest management plan that does not use pesticides, that’s another opportunity for us to support pollinators.
What You Can Do
You can participate in pollinator conservation at home and do your part to ensure these important animals continue to thrive. Here are three pollinator-positive ideas to get you started.
- Plant a pollinator garden: Planting a pollinator habitat that features native wildflowers can help support and encourage pollinators to grow and reproduce. Milkweed, for example, is the preferred breeding plant for monarch butterflies.
- Buy products from companies that support pollinators: Companies like Gaia Herbs are investing energy and financial support to help pollinators thrive. Give back by supporting these companies.
- Stay informed: Check out publications that cover pollination issues. The Xerces Society has a wealth of information about pollinators and what is being done to help protect them.
Small steps make big differences. We can help protect the pollinators and encourage a healthier habitat for them and us.
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