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What Is A Pollinator?

Illustration by Mariana Ruiz (Creative Commons)
Illustration by Mariana Ruiz (Creative Commons)

Pollination is the first step of flowering plant reproduction: pollen moves from male flower parts to female flower parts, to fertilize the ovule and produce seeds. Some plants can self-pollinate, reproducing within their own flowers without the need of outside assistance. However, many plants cannot pollinate themselves or have healthier populations when they are outcrossed, and they have evolved to rely on wind (anemophily), water (hydrophily), or animals (zoophily) to distribute their pollen to other plants for them.

© David Darling

That’s where pollinators come in! Pollinators are animals that move pollen accidentally or on purpose and help plants reproduce, usually in exchange for floral resources. They are hugely diverse: bees, wasps, flies, butterflies and moths, beetles, other insects, birds, bats, rodents, and even lizards have all been shown to pollinate.

Creative Commons

Pollinators are crucial worldwide for ecosystem health, biodiversity, and human agricultural and economic success. The Xerces Society estimates that 1 out of every 3 bites of food you eat requires the help of pollinators to make. The presence of a wide diversity of pollinators is one indicator of a healthy ecosystem, as plant-pollinator relationships are the foundation for many of the world’s environments.

However, many species of pollinating insects are under threat worldwide. In Southern California, our major threat to pollinators is habitat loss due to development, degradation, and fragmentation. Many people have a desire to help support pollinators and improve the quality of their habitat, not to mention the pleasure of watching a spring garden full of busy activity. Read on to find out how you can help support pollinators with the ornamentals you choose!