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Pollinators of Native Plants With Heather Holm

EcoBeneficial! is delighted to be back online after a medical emergency and a long recovery period.   I return with an interview with Heather Holm, author of Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects With Native Plants.

Click to watch the slideshow
Click to listen to the podcast

Holm is a landscape designer and consultant specializing in native plants. She is also a fine photographer.   In her own words, her recently published book combines “my research of native pollinators with my knowledge of native plants and interest in photography.”

European honey bees have garnered the most attention, says Holm, while our 4,000 species of native bees and other native pollinators have been virtually overlooked.  Why is this important?   Pollinators are critical to our ecosystems and “all pollinators are in trouble, not just bees,” Holm explains.

Inspired by the publication of the Xerces Society’s book, Attracting Native Pollinators, Holm decided to write a book that illustrates common, specific interactions of native plants with their pollinators.   She hopes to inspire readers to “plant for, observe, attract and foster pollinators in their landscape, ultimately helping to sustain pollinator populations.”

Holm’s wonderful photos of different pollinators, on the native plants they utilize, provide a close-up view of insects that can be very difficult to track and identify in person.  Bees, wasps, moths, beetles, flies, and butterflies are all lurking in your landscape, but how many can you identify?  And, what resources do they use?

Ever wonder just how useful your plant choice is to pollinators?  Holm’s examples of plant/insect interactions can be very surprising.  For example, Swamp Milkweed, (Asclepias incarnata), is not only a host plant for Monarch butterflies, it is a nectar resource for a large range of insects including bees, wasps, ants, flies, butterflies, moths, beetles and bugs.

We might assume that all pollinators are equally valuable to plants.  Not so, explains Holm.  While pollination may be a mutualistic relationship between a plant and a pollinator, often it is not.  Holm says that only a minority of insect floral visitors are effective pollinators – often they nectar on a flower without picking up or transferring pollen.

The effectiveness of a pollinator is determined by a number of factors, says Holm:

  • Their ability to carry pollen (or inability)
  • Their grooming habits
  • Their foraging behavior
  • They body size and shape and tongue length
  • Their movement between flowers
  • Their fidelity to a certain plant species

Some plant/pollinator relationships are so specialized that a plant species may depend upon only one type of insect to pollinate it.  Holm mentions Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) as only being effectively pollinated by queen bumble bees, due to the bees’ size, strength, and tongue length.

Learn more about the fascinating interactions of pollinators and native plants in the slideshow interview or podcast with Heather Holm.

Happy Holidays from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Green Sweat Bee
Photo credit: Heather Holm