Hummers are Back at Hobbs State Park. Rita Martin, Rogers
Category: Cover Story

Appreciating and protecting our pollinators

June is known as Pollinator Month, with Pollinator Week taking place during the third week of the month. This year, it’s June 17 to 23. It is a wonderful opportunity to recognize, celebrate and learn more about those creatures that perform the incredible act of pollination, which benefits us all in our daily lives

Striped Butterfly. Steven Popstein, Rogers

Pollination occurs when pollen is moved within flowers or carried from flower to flower by pollinators such as birds, bees, butterflies, beetles, bats and other small mammals.

Pollinators are important as they provide about one in every three bites of food we eat. Their work ensures stable global and local crop production, and in some cases — like the monarch butterfly — hold cultural significance that spans national borders and generations.

Bees and Lavender. Gabriele Risinger, Piggott

As vital as pollinators are, over 40% of insect pollinator populations are in decline around the world due to several factors, one of which is significant habitat loss and fragmentation.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, nearly 135 butterfly species might be seen in the state during a typical year. About 350 bird species are regularly seen in Arkansas, with about 145 nesting in the state.

Bees are considered the most important pollinator. According to the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, 400 to 650 species of bees alone are native to The Natural State. Contrary to popular belief, the honeybee is not one of them! Honeybees are native to Europe and Africa, although Arkansas is home to many buzzing bees that greatly contribute to the local and national economy.

Additionally, the ecosystem and pollination services provided by native bees in particular are responsible for approximately $3 billion in economic value per year in the United States. Whether you rely on a cup of coffee to kickstart your morning, enjoy the comfort of cotton T-shirts or satisfy a sweet tooth with a piece of chocolate or a spoonful of honey, you can thank pollinators.

Bee-ing proactive

Here are some ways to support pollinators in Arkansas during Pollinator Month:

American Goldfinch. Leslie Cramer, Fort Smith

1. Add native plants to your landscape. Some suggestions:

  • Golden Alexander and Eastern bluestar;
  • Milkweeds such as butterfly weed and swamp;
  • Spotted bee balm;
  • Foxglove beadtounge and Eastern columbine for hummingbirds;
  • Black-eyed Susan;
  • Lanceleaf coreopsis; and
  • Important fall nectar plants like goldenrods.

If you have the space, adding native trees and shrubs can further benefit pollinators and birds. Native oaks, for example, can support over 400 different species of caterpillars!

Just be sure to do your research. Check if there is a native nursery nearby that can help you and ensure that the plants you purchase are properly suited to the conditions of your selected planting area. No matter how large or small the site, incorporating native plants will support pollinators and wildlife in your local ecosystem.

2. Leave the leaves this fall

Bees and Lavender. Gabriele Risinger, Piggott

Resist the temptation to shred and dispose of fallen leaves, as they provide valuable shelter for bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators during the winter months. Plus, leaf litter suppresses weeds and retains moisture like wood mulch, but it is free! If you need to clean up gardens that are more public-facing, gently rake whole leaves into a secluded, designated area on your property for overwintering pollinator habitat.

3. Learn some pollinator trivia!

Did you know that only female bees sting? Or that it takes over 20 visits to fully pollinate a strawberry? Most North American bees are solitary, not social! What other fun pollinator facts do you know? Share them with friends!

Hummingbird Finding Nectar in the Lotus on Lake Leatherwood. Dena Creamer, Clarksville

4. Participate in community science.

Create a free iNaturalist account, and upload your photo observations to support research in Arkansas and beyond. Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) is a host company for the Electric Power Research Institute’s Pollinator Power Party — the world’s largest virtual party celebrating pollinators — for the fifth year in a row! This year, the party is also hosting a “bioblitz” on iNaturalist, where you can share your pollinator sitings: Click on “Read More” in the “About” section to find a link to register for the virtual party as well.

Butterfly Sitting Down So Lightly. Steven Popstein, Rogers

Cooperative contributions

AECC, along with several of our distribution cooperatives, are working to support native pollinator habitat on our rights-of-way and solar facilities via practices like Integrated Vegetation Management.

Tiger Swallowtail on Thistle, with a Bee Waiting His Turn. ­Debbie Sandidge, Bella Vista

These practices not only improve reliability by targeting woody and encroaching vegetation, but reduce competition from undesirable vegetative growth.

It also saves the cooperatives money by supporting the native plants lying dormant in the seedbeds of our managed lands and reduces the costs of frequent mechanical mowings.

We are very pleased with the work that has been accomplished by the cooperatives during the last few years, and are hopeful about what we will continue to achieve to support pollinators and habitat in Arkansas. Let us all reflect on this important work and commit to doing our part as we sip coffee, tend our gardens and acknowledge pollinators this month.

Doing What Hover Flies Do. Mickey Arlow, Bella Vista