It is no secret that we rely on pollinators. They literally put food on our tables and contribute upwards of $20 billion of value to the U.S. economy every year. In addition to the direct benefits of pollinators to humans, they also contribute to the health of our wild ecosystems in many ways, including being a vital food source for our native songbirds.
Unfortunately, several pollinator species are currently threatened. Take the charismatic monarch butterfly. These easy-to-spot butterflies possess a multitude of unique and fantastic qualities, such as a striking orange and black coloration and the fact that they migrate a great distance every year. In the continental U.S., there are two distinct populations that are geographically isolated from each other: the western population and the eastern population.
Due to a combination of factors, both populations are severely weaker than they were in the late 20th century. The western population is alarmingly close to collapse. For every 2,250 monarch butterflies in the mid-1980s, there is now only one. To make a local analogy, that would be like the population of Sullivan County dwindling down to only 70 folks. The eastern population has not declined as dramatically, but the picture is still grim, as only about 20% of them remain.
You may be asking yourself what can be done about this. The two main actions that will help conserve our pollinators are minimizing pesticide use (and when absolutely necessary, using only as directed) and planting pollinator-friendly plants. For those fortunate enough to have property, you can plant a pollinator garden that includes a diverse array of pollinator-friendly plants, especially native milkweed species. Milkweed species are the “host plants” for monarchs, as they are the only plants that monarch caterpillars can eat.
There are several plant selection guides available online, such as one from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Pollinator gardens do not need to be huge to be impactful but starting with at least 50 to 75 square feet is recommended. If we all do our part, we can ensure monarchs and other important pollinators stick around and continue to make our world a better place.
With spring just around the corner, Kingsport Neighborhood Commission loves to find new and creative ways to show our neighbors we care. As neighbors, we can grow and gift these amazing plants to make our helpful and beautiful pollinators feel right at home in Kingsport. Show us your pollinator plants by sharing them on our Facebook page or emailing them to [email protected].