National Pollinator Week is celebrated each year at the end of June. This annual event allows us to take time and support pollinator health internationally! Pollinators are important because they are the cornerstone of our ecosystems. They promote biodiversity and assist plants in reproduction by transferring pollen from the male anther one flower to the female stigma of another. Around 80% of the crops that produce our food and plant-based industrial products require pollination. The health of the pollinator population is a great indicator of the health of an ecosystem, with visits from pollinators resulting in more flavorful fruits and higher crop yields. One out of every three bites of food comes from the help of a pollinator!
“Absolutely every animal on this planet gets its food from plants: either by eating the plant or eating something that ate the plant.” - Dr. Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware
While many people typically think of bees being the only pollinators, beetles, butterflies, bats, birds, and other small mammals actually fit into this category as well. Pollinators can be very diverse, but many of these populations are in decline due to habitat loss from urban development, pollution, the misuse of chemicals, and changes in climatic patterns. With these threats, pollinators are losing the food and nesting sites critical for their survival.
Nashville Zoo is assisting our local pollinator population by incorporating native plants into the landscaping around our Entry Village, Grassmere Historic Home, HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center, and other pathways. An abundance of native plants increases the likelihood that local pollinators will choose to host with those plants because they have evolved together over time. Without native plants, insects and wildlife that evolved along with the plants would not survive.
The Children's Garden behind the Historic Home is home to many plants that are butterfly host species. Another area of the Zoo popular with pollinators are the grasslands surrounding the pathway to the Veterinary Center. Instead of cutting this area down to create clean lawns, the wild growth is home to a wide variety of pollinators. The next time you walk through these areas, look around and see how many pollinator species you can spot!
One of the ways you can help fight the decline of pollinator populations is to plant your own pollinator garden! Use resources like NWF.org and Audubon.org to identify plants native to your area. Make sure you choose a location that suits both your plants and your pollinators - some butterflies like to bask in the sun, while other pollinators may prefer some shade. You may choose to use seeds or start with small plants! Your timeline and budget will dictate which option is best for you. If you don't want to use your existing lawn to start your garden, there are many pre-made raised beds or containers that would be suitable as well! If you are interested in planting a pollinator garden of your own, you can find more information here.
Some of the pollinator-friendly plants local to Tennessee and featured at the Zoo include:
Coneflowers or Echinacea
Milkweed and Mexican Milkweed
Meadow Phlox and Garden Phlox
Black-Eyed Susans and Brown-Eyed Susans
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