Soule Garden: Please praise pollinators; they feed us - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Soule Garden: Please praise pollinators; they feed us

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Posted: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 11:00 pm

In a national poll, a scant 15 percent of American adults were aware that pollen plays a critical role in plant reproduction.

The sad part of this statistic is that plant reproduction is what provides us with virtually all the food we eat. Even meat-itarians eat plants because the animals they consume eat plants, and if plants don't reproduce there would be nothing for animals to eat. (You would have to live on seafood and mushrooms to not need plants, but no butter for the shrimp scampi.)

To help raise Arizonians awareness of the fact that we owe our existence to pollinators, Gov. Janice Brewer has proclaimed June 21-27 Pollinator Week in the State of Arizona. Other states are celebrating, too.

Most people, if they really think about it, know that the birds and the bees are important for pollination. Along with birds and bees, there are over 100,000 different species of animals that share the earth with us and provide pollination for plants. The list includes bats, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, bugs, flies, mice, lemurs, geckos, lizards, and even some marsupials from Down Under.

In their book "The Forgotten Pollinators," Buchmann and Nabhan (1996) discuss the fact that, along with feeding us, pollinators are part of the intricate web that supports the biological diversity in natural ecosystems that helps sustain our quality of life. Abundant and healthy populations of pollinators can improve fruit set and quality, and increase fruit size. In farming situations, this increases production per acre. In the wild, biodiversity increases and wildlife food sources increase.

Here in Southern Arizona, farmers rely on pollinators to help insure a good harvest. Apples, peaches, plums, okra, squash, citrus and many types of melons all rely on honey bees and native bees for pollination. The efforts to understand the threats to commercial bees should help us understand other pollinators and their roles in the environment as well. It is imperative that we take immediate steps to help pollinator populations thrive. The beauty of the situation is that by supporting pollinators' need for habitat, we support our own needs for food and support diversity in the natural world.

You can celebrate National Pollinator Week at Tohono Chul Park all week long. But be sure to stop by on Saturday, June 26, 9 to 5, and stroll around the grounds for an all-day celebration of pollinators, with six free lectures and several workshops, along with displays and exhibits by 12 local environmental organizations.

You can celebrate National Pollinator Week at home, too. Harking back to my column last month on night blooming gardens, be on the lookout this month for some nighttime moth pollinators. There are three that look virtually interchangeable in the gloom as they pollinate such night blooms as the Sonoran queen of the night (Peniocereus striatus), datura (Datura stamonium) or the large white native evening primrose (Oenotheria caespitosa). Look for the pink-spotted hawk moth (Agrius cingulata), the white lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata), and largest of all, the giant hawk moth (Eumorpha typhon). This last is also called the hummingbird moth, it is indeed larger than some species of hummingbirds.

Jacqueline has been writing about gardening in the Southwest for close to three decades. She is currently working on a book on growing and using the herbs of Father Kino's Mission Gardens.

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