Over 75% of our crops and flowering plants must be pollinated. Yet, there is clear evidence that pollinators are in perilous decline. Among pollinators are hummingbirds, flies, bats, butterflies, beetles, bats, moths and bees. They all play an important role in flowering plant reproduction and production of most vegetables and fruits.

Pollination occurs when the pollen from the male part of a flower (stamen) is shared with the female part of a flower (stigma) resulting in fertilization. While some pollination results incidentally when butterflies and birds move among plants in search of food, shelter and nest building materials, bees intentionally collect pollen. In either case, pollen sticks to their bodies and is spread among flowers as they visit each bloom.

An estimated 80% of all food produced in the United States depends on pollination. Indeed, our food supply and security depends on a healthy supply of pollinators. Threats to pollinators are increasing around the world and studies have revealed that many causes of decline are largely man made in origin. Among causes being studied are use of pesticides and herbicides, changing land use, pollution, and climate change.

Recently, a University of Illinois multi-team research effort was begun to understand the causes of decline of several native bumble bee species. It was found that at least four species have declined significantly and one species, the rusty-patched bumble bee, is headed toward extinction. It is estimated to have disappeared from 87% of its historic range. Sydney Cameron, U of I entomologist, attributes some of the decline to pesticide use, global warming and the use of imported European bees for greenhouse tomato production. The imported bees spread a disease called Nosema to the native bee population. The rusty-patched bumble bee has been designated an endangered species by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Managed bee colonies in the United States have declined from 6 million beehives to just 2.5 million today. With certain crops, largely dependent upon commercial pollination, reduced honey bee populations create a real risk to agriculture. We are reminded of the importance of pollinators every time we survey the plants in our garden looking for the first fruits to appear. One of the true joys of a healthy ecosystem in the flower and vegetable gardens is the abundant buzzing of the bees and the beauty of the butterflies floating quietly among the flowers. We must do all that we can to invite them into our gardens and preserve the habitat that sustains them.

If you are looking to improve your landscape or "green" thumb you will benefit from Gardenfest workshops on Saturday, April 8 from 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Enjoy the keynote address "Garden Renovations for Any Size Landscape" with Melinda Myers plus choose from over 30 other breakout sessions to fill your day with education, information and new ideas. Gardenfest will be held at the Luecht Conference Center at McHenry County College. For more information go to conferencecenter@ mchenry.edu or call (815) 455-8764.

Next month we will address efforts we all can make as individuals to help protect the pollinators in our local environment. If you have any comments or questions, contact us at sdeberg@ marengo-uniontimes.com.


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