The prairie at North Mississippi Regional Park comes alive with flowers in August. From the deep purple flowers of blazing stars, asters and monarda, to the yellows of sunflowers and goldenrods, there can be over 200 species of wildflowers in a typical prairie. Where there are flowers, there are pollinators like butterflies and bees. Pollination is what plants do to reproduce making fruit and seed. It is very important to plant communities like the prairies. Pollination is also something that everyone on the planet relies on every day, often without realizing it. Without pollination, and without pollinators, there would be no food. Pollination gives the world and all its animal species fruits and vegetables to eat, and is crucial to all crops in the world.
So what is pollination? It is the process that the majority of flowering plants use to reproduce. The act of pollination occurs when pollen (the male part) comes in contact with the stigma (the female part) in flowers. There are several ways pollination occurs, including through insects like bees, butterflies, wasps, hummingbirds and wind.
Honey bees, in particular, are very important, pollinating more than one-third of the world’s crop species. They fly from flower to flower drinking its nectar. While doing so they brush up against pollen grains on the plant which sticks to the bee. The bee then flies off to the next plant, bringing the pollen with them and “dropping it off.” The bee is really just after the sweet nectar produced by the flower. You could almost say it happens accidentally, but it’s very precise and specialized and amazing.
In Minnesota it is thought that we have over 400 native species of bees. Unfortunately world-wide bee populations are in crisis due to habitat loss, use of pesticides and diseases. In Minnesota only 2 percent of Minnesota’s prairie habitat remains. Additionally, the use of pesticides has greatly disturbed Minnesota bees and the prevalence of bee diseases has resulted in losses in the bee population. With pollination so important to food production and 1/3 of domestic crops dependent upon bee pollination, you start to understand why bees are so vital.
North Mississippi Regional Park is a haven for pollinators and is full of pollinator friendly plants that attract pollinating insects like bees. If you look closely you can see pollination in action with bees and butterflies covering this prairie. One prominent plant on the prairie is goldenrod. It comes in several varieties and attracts several pollinating insects in their pursuit of nectar. You can see several species of goldenrod blooming in the park each August.
Believe it or not you can help! Start by planting bee friendly plants in your yards and encourage other land owners to do the same. Both ornamental flowers and vegetables are great. You can also create bee nesting habitat for wild bees by leaving plant stems up all year, providing some dead branches, and leaving clumps of bare earth in your garden. You can also build a bee nest box (pictured). And last, keep your plants chemical free. Yes, you’ll have more insects in your yard, and most of them will be beneficial pollinators. For more info on how to help bees check out the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab at beelab.umn.edu/.
Be sure and stop in at the North Mississippi Regional Park and the Kroening Interpretive Center to explore the park and look for pollinators in action. The Interpretive Center offers a free pollinator scavenger hunt that will help you explore the park and win a prize. Free Family Fun Days continue on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. through the month with the following themes, August 6 – River Photography, August 13 – Float a Boat, August 20 – Dragonflies, August 27 Mississippi River Rocks. Activities for those events are on-going and you can drop in anytime.