Let’s get back to basics for a minute. Much like humans, plants can’t reproduce without fertilization (ahem). Plants are fertilized via pollen, which is moved from one part of the flower of a plant to another. This pollen is moved by pollinators, which are organisms like bees, birds, beetles, wasps, bats, butterflies, and moths.
Foods such as tomatoes, avocados, blueberries, almonds, apples, and cashews, and spices such as cardamom and nutmeg, are all dependent on the quiet work of pollinators. In fact, one out of every three bites of food we consume relies on pollination.
According to Beyond Pesticides, “since 2006, honey bees and pollinators in the U.S. and throughout the world have experienced ongoing and rapid population declines. In the U.S., over 40% of honey bees are being lost each year.” This crisis, largely unbeknownst to most people, threatens the stability of ecosystems, the economy, and our food supply.
Pollinator populations, and especially honey bees, are threatened by harmful pesticides like neonicotinoids – also known as neonics. This pesticide works by affecting the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death.
Neonics are widely used in agriculture and gardens, and can be found in many home and garden products. Once it’s applied, it contaminates pollen and nectar and can be persistent, meaning it does not decompose and remains in the environment for a long time. Neonics are especially threatening to honey bees and can kill entire colonies. Because bees have low fecundity – meaning they lack the ability to reproduce rapidly or in large numbers – they’re susceptible to local extinction. Aside from pesticide use, pollinators are also threatened by habitat loss, climate change, parasites, and diseases.
Thankfully, there’s opportunities for us to help protect pollinators. As individuals, we can:
Commit to buying and eating organic
Plant pollinator-friendly habitat in our yards
Ask elected officials to end the use of neonic pesticides
And even raise bees ourselves
And if you don’t have your own garden but want to check out some pollinator-friendly habitat, you can head over to the Smithsonian’s Pollinator Garden on the east side of the National Museum of Natural History. Or, you know, check it out regardless because plants are great and we hope you love them like we do at V+B.