I have lightly touched on the topic of pollinators in my previous post about the vanishing Illinois prairie. Here are a couple more pictures of them in action.
Pollen, as a carrier of DNA, is obviously essential in survival and permeation of blooming plants. Though, specifically for us humans it has some very important impacts on our lives. I would pick two:
First, it’s an allergen and for many people pollen can make life downright unbearable. I was never one of those and running through a blossoming meadow or raking and collecting dry hay as a kid never bothered me once, save for an occasional sneeze when the dust was too thick. This year, for some reason, was the first year when I became palpably allergic to pollen. I may have been allergic before, but this year I was actually symptomatic. I do not know, if it was my prior coronavirus infection (my sense of smell has been damaged permanently, and only came back partially), or it may have been triggered by the Pfizer vaccine, because my allergy symptoms started a few days after the first dose, or it may be me just getting old. Who knows. I was miserable. Itchy eyes, runny nose, headache, sneezing. It got to a point where I had to spend a couple of days in bed and out of work, until my Claritin meds fully kicked in. Life was good from that point onward. So, yes, allergy is a point down on the pollen benefit scale.
Second, pollinators bring us food. As products and victims of our own quest for comfort and consumerism, so many of us have gotten so accustomed to going to the grocery store and buying fruits every week and not be aware that those trees or bushes had to be pollinated, for them to bear any fruit. Even in self-pollinating varieties, you need the insects to go from blossom to blossom to do the job (wind can do only some of the work, not all). Green, mowed, beautifully sculpted front and back yards started taking precedent in recent decades, taking away the all-important food source for our pollinators. Insects need to eat through all the seasons they are out and about and not only the few weeks when the trees are in bloom, so having a rotating palette of food for them is paramount. We’ve recently planted a dozen fruit trees and over a dozen berry bushes around our property and the first thing going up were perennial wild flowers. Without attracting the insects first, a dream of any orchard is a non-starter. As a kid on an urban homestead where we had over 130 fruit trees in my grandparents’ back yard, I remember my dad always kept bees on a trailer. Eight mobile hives or more. He even used to get paid by other people to temporarily haul the hives to other people’s properties during late spring to pollinate their orchards and canola fields.
I’m allergic to bee sting. My arm would always end up twice the size after any sting, yet I always loved when we went to harvest honey. An all day adventure, full of hard work, shut inside a hut, scraping the plasters and spinning them in a hand-cranked centrifuge. In the two or three collections we would do each year we’d easily harvest several hundred pounds of honey. Canola, flower, clover and my favorite: dark forest honey – the most coveted and most expensive honey there ever was. It had a distinct pine fragrance, very pronounced flavor and was actually spicy, so when you swallowed it, you would feel slight burn in the back of your throat. The best remedy for cold, cough and sore throat I ever got as a kid. Back then, it was all about honey for me, not once did I consider that the bees, in their measly 30 days of life they had (yes, they live only for thirty days or so) they kept busy pollinating our orchard, bringing us thousands of pounds of apples, pears, plums, cherries, gooseberries, currants, raspberries and I cannot even remember what else. Silent and unrecognized essential workers buzzing behind the scenes made all that bounty possible.
If you have a yard, regardless of whether you have a garden or not, consider planting some perennial wild flowers native to your area. The pollinators will thank you for it by making them grow, spread and prosper.
And if you are allergic to pollen, non-drowsy antihistamines will save the day.
If some of you think this is insignificant, please consider this:
Human population is rapidly growing. Seven plus billion people today, it used to be some five and a half when I was in great school. More people means more food consumption. If all of us are to have a balanced diet, we will need more trees and fruit, yet the bee populations worldwide, who are responsible for keeping this production yield up, are rapidly declining (thank the use of pesticides for that). The trend is not only heading in a wrong direction, the speed of the decline is very alarming. We are already facing changes in climate, but shortage of organic fruit may come much sooner than rising sea levels and melting polar ice sheets. This will reach a point where it will be cost prohibitive for families with median income to afford buying organically grown fruits at the grocery store. Prices of apples in my area are already getting ridiculous as more and more people are shopping organic and demand is swiftly outpacing supply.
So, yes, planting perennial flowers is a worthy investment. It won’t solve all the problems, but it’s the least we can all do to help turn the tide…