Help Save the Pollinators

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You’ve heard the old saying, “an apple a day will keep the doctor away.”  Well, to keep those apples coming, we need to seriously pay attention to the plight of our pollinators. Pollinators help transfer pollen from the male part of the flower to the female part, ensuring seed production and/or completely formed fruit. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value annually; other organizations claim as high as $40 billion. It is generally estimated that anywhere from 66-85 percent of our food is directly affected by pollinators.

Since 2006, there have been significant losses in the honeybee population. This apparent surge in hive loss has been termed colony collapse disorder (CCD). There has been much finger pointing to what may be the cause, but science has yet to find one prominent explanation. There can be several causes that affect colony health such as management practices, chemical use – including pesticides, chemical toxins in the environment, varroa mites, undiscovered pests, diseases, limited food sources, and even genetically modified crops have received some attention.

Before we dive too far, we should discover what pollinators are. Most folks are quick to realize that honeybees are pollinators, but they are not the only ones. Honeybees are responsible for the largest percentage of crops to be pollinated. There are 4,000 native species of bees in the United States – over 400 are found in North Carolina. Coincidentally, the honeybee is not native to America but to Europe. The most common pollinators are bees and butterflies, but other creatures pollinate plants like bats, moths, beetles, ants, hummingbirds, and wasps. Native pollinators include bumblebees, mason bees, blueberry bees, sweat bees, squash bees, miner bees, cutter bees, and carpenter bees.

What can we do to help the plight of the pollinators? Like all creatures, pollinators need food, water, and shelter. Everyone can plant more food sources. Plant a variety of plants known to be great sources for pollinators. Plan ahead so you will have flowering plants every season for a constant food supply. Allowing your winter vegetables to flower will provide nectar and pollen early in the season – a critical time when few other plants are blooming, and erratic weather can adversely affect their food supply. Annuals like Cleome, Cosmos, Zinnias, and Sunflowers are great bee attractors. Native plants like Milkweed, Aster, Joe Pye Weed, Bee Balm, Goldenrod, and Blazing Star are excellent choices for pollinators. Here is a great online resource for recommended plant selections:

National Pollinators Week was officially celebrated this year the week of June 19 – 24. Due to scheduling conflict and other unforeseen circumstances, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, will celebrate pollinators Wednesday, July 26, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Robeson County Farmers Market, located downtown Lumberton at the corner of 8th and Elm Streets. The Robeson County Beekeepers will join us as we offer shelter demonstrations, information, giveaways, and youth activities to help us BEE aware and BEE educated on preserving our pollinators.

To learn more about pollinators, please contact Mack Johnson, Extension Horticultural Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at, or visit our website at

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