We all love the beauty of a fat yellow daffodil and that perky little crocus, but, until recently I had never considered whether they served an actual ecological purpose. I have always considered daffodils as minor miracles, but realizing that most of these bulbs are not native to North America, what benefit could they be to our local pollinator population? I began to have a major rethink.
Let’s review – just to put us all on the same page:
1. What is Pollination?
Pollination is when pollen is moved within flowers or carried from flower to flower by pollinating animals such as birds, bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, or other animals, or by the wind.
2. Why Do We Need Pollination and Pollinators?
Pollination makes certain that a plant will produce full-bodied fruit and a full set of viable seeds. Think food and drink.
3. What Can We Do To Promote and Protect Pollinators
Cultivate native plants, especially those that provide nectar and larval food for pollinators.
Avoid planting hybrids.
Provide pollinators with flowers by planting bulbs in the autumn for those early spring bloomers.
Actually, the daffodil is native to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), and tulips flourish wild in Turkey and Central Asia. Crocuses were originally native to southern Europe, the Middle East and western China. Not one of them is native to North America!
Long before humans started admiring their blooms, most of our favorite bulb flowers were being visited by pollinators. Such is not the case today.
Our modern hybrids are annually selected for the biggest bloom and brightest color which often become less useful to pollinators. Flowers that have been distorted too far from their original form may have less nectar or be entirely sterile, rendering them useless as a food source.
Hybridization can also sacrifice the flower’s strong scent, leaving aroma-sensing pollinators (like nocturnal moths) without their meal. Insects and flowers have an important relationship directly related to the flower’s shape. If it changes drastically, certain insects may no longer be able to reach the nectar.
As we humans try to improve flowers for our own eyes, we unintentionally disrupt the flower’s job in nature.
Spring Blooming Bulbs:
There are many great options of North American native bulbs that can be beneficial for our ecosystem. If you aren’t ready to give up your tulips and daffodils, never fear! By choosing non-hybrid species, the flower may retain its pollen and nectar, supplying much needed early spring feeding for hungry pollinators. Crocuses, Hyacinths, and species-Tulips all are well-loved by hungry bees waking up from their long hibernation as well as wild type, or species specific daffodils.
When spring finally arrives each year, I am often feeling starved for colorful flowers. That’s also how many hungry pollinators like bumblebees and honeybees must feel. As temperatures get warmer, they need the nectar from flowers to fuel them. Some of the earliest (and easiest!) flowers you can grow come from bulbs that you need to plant in the fall. These bulbs require the chill of winter in order to produce flowers in spring. You can have something in bloom from earliest spring all the way through summer by choosing the right mix of bulbs. Then you’ll have cheerful color to chase away the winter blues, while also serving up some essential nectar and pollen to our local pollinators.
Right now, start doing your research and buying your bulbs. It’s OK to plant flowers to “feed” your eyes, but don’t forget to plant bulbs to “feed” the pollinators. Soon, you’ll be putting on a sweatshirt and garden gloves to prepare for next spring’s bounty!
Coming soon – The how-to’s of planting your bulbs
Send us your questions and comments to the Shelby Purdue Extension Office – 317 392 6460 ext. 0 and https:// extension.Purdue.edu/Shelby