Category Archives: Pollinators

What’s the buzz about pollinators?

Within the past month, Walmart stores in Pendleton and Hermiston, Ore. joined 16 other Walmart stores in opening pollinator gardens on their store grounds.

It’s a small step that, multiplied across backyards and public spaces across the country, could make a big impact on the survival of the native insects that are such a critical part of our northwest ecosystems.

Be a friend to pollinators! Animal pollinators are essential to reproduction for 35% of the world’s food crops ,but they are disappearing. This animation explains what individuals can do to help pollinators in their own communities, and describes the varieties of pollinators. USDA video, via YouTube.

The issues facing native pollinators are daunting. While some species are able to thrive on food from many plants, others are highly specialized and depend on just a few plant species. In other cases, specific plants provide cover to hide from predators or preferred breeding grounds that a dependent insect species needs.

When those plants are replaced, by crops or invasive weeds, parking lots, or buildings, small patches of remaining habitat – and the insect populations they sustain – can get isolated from others of their kind. And while some of these smaller plant and insect colonies eventually adapt to these changes, others dwindle and eventually die off.

That’s a problem, because ecosystems are interdependent.

As the number and types of of pollinators decline, plants that rely on them may also decline – including plants that rely directly on the specialized pollinators that have adapted to thrive with them, and plants that simply rely on large numbers of pollinators generally to maintain a healthy degree of cross-pollination across a geographical area.

Specific pollinators or the plants that rely on them may also be an important food source for specific bird and animal species.

Improper use of pesticides is another threat to our pollinators.

While pesticides are an important and necessary part of protecting agricultural crops, and even native plants and trees from infestations by aggressive or invasive insect species, it’s important for users to follow application guidelines.

Applying too much product, watering too soon after pesticide applications, or applying pesticides under the wrong conditions can create residue, runoff, or drift, potentially causing harm to beneficial organisms well beyond the intended treatment area.

It’s not just highly-specialized species that are struggling. Honeybee populations have declined drastically in recent decades, in part due to a syndrome called “colony collapse disorder.”

Scientists are still studying what is causing hives to fail in such large numbers, but believe a range of cumulative stressors, which could include fungal infection, infestations by parasitic mites, habitat loss that requires bees to fly further to collect sufficient food for their hive, pesticide exposure, ultimately results in stressed, unhealthy bee colonies that can’t sustain sufficient numbers to stay warm and fed through the winter.

The Monarch butterfly, which the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife website calls “one of America’s most recognizable species in North America,” is being considered for Endangered Species Act protection.

The migratory butterfly’s numbers have plummeted during the past two decades, likely due in part to overall habitat loss and fragmentation, and especially from reduced numbers of the milkweed plants it relies on, particularly when breeding.

Many communities are joining the effort to protect pollinators by removing invasives and planting native species in parks and other public spaces, and even utility rights-of-way! You can research milkweed species that are native to your area at http://www.xerces.org/milkweed/.

Individuals can also help native northwest pollinators, and the plants and animals that depend on them, survive and thrive.

Flower beds and border gardens planted with of native plant species can be beautiful and beneficial to pollinators! Many pollinators are especially attracted to showy flowers, their favored source of food. Here in the Pacific Northwest, many of our native plants are highly ornamental. Even a small container garden, planted with native flowering plants, can creating a safe place for insects to stop, rest, and feed while travelling between larger areas of habitat. You can read more about how to build such a garden at https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/PollinatorGarden.html.

Gardeners and professional growers can also help protect pollinators by using caution when planning for use of herbicides and insecticides (both organic and synthetic can impact beneficial insects or plants that they rely on).

For more information, visit: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/

For links to USDA research re: pollinators, visit: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/economic-and-policy-analysis/natural-resources-analysis/pollinators/index

* Special thanks to Ron Kikel, visitor information assistant and conservation educator on the Mt. Hood National Forest, for providing the close-up photos below of some pollinators he’s recently encountered in and around Oregon. Thanks also to Chamise Kramer, Public Affairs Specialist for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, for the informative and shareable graphics.

Forest Service at Oregon Zoo – next event Aug. 20

PORTLAND, Ore. (June 20, 2019)  Forest Service employees from Portland, Ore. were at the Oregon Zoo’s first Twilight Tuesday event of the season, June 18.

Twilight Tuesday events feature reduced-price evening admission to the zoo, as well as live music, expanded food options, and a variety of education stations staged around the zoo’s performance lawn.

“Zoo visitors are a perfect audience to learn about what the Forest Service is doing with habitat restoration. There are lots of families, lots of young, enthusiastic kids who are interested in learning about the natural world,” Gala Miller, acting conservation education program manager for the agency’s Pacific Northwest Regional office, said. “It’s also allows us to share important information, like white nose syndrome in bats, endangered species protection and preservation… and its about being in community, introducing a non-traditional audiences to the Forest Service and what we do.”

Zoos are often associated with the opportunities they offer view exotic animals, but modern zoos also provide a wealth of research and conservation resources that benefit local, native wildlife.

For example, Staff from the Oregon Zoo’s Butterfly Lab help supervise the raising of threatened and endangered butterflies which are used to repopulate fragmented wild habitat in places like western Washington and Oregon’s Coast Range.

At the July 18 event, Forest Service personnel conducted their own “Butterfly Lab” with zoo visitors, educating young people about the environmental importance of butterflies and other pollinators, butterfly migration patterns, and some of the challenges facing the Pacific Northwest’s endangered and threatened butterfly species.

The Forest Service’s partnership with the zoo is based on its shared mission to educate youth about the natural world, Miller said. The agency partners with the zoo on conservation events throughout the year, including youth summer camps and overnight programs.

The Forest Service also participated in the 2019 season’s second Twilight Tuesday event on July 16. The final Oregon Zoo Twilight Tuesday for the 2019 is scheduled for Aug. 20.

For more information, visit https://www.oregonzoo.org/events/twilight-tuesday.


Source Information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region (Office of Communications and Community Engagement)

Boulder Cave reopens for summer; bat protection protocol in place

Townsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii), in a July 20, 2011 file photo by Ann Froschauer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

NACHES, Wash. (June 3, 2019)Boulder Cave, a popular highlight for visitors to the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, will opened for the 2019 summer season May 24. Boulder Cave, Boulder Cave Day Use Site, and the Boulder Barrier Free Trail will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 20, 2019.

The cave is home to Townsend’s big-eared bat, which is listed as a sensitive species in Washington and Oregon.

Bats are susceptible to White Nose Syndrome, a deadly disease triggered by a fungal infection that can kill entire bat colonies by disrupting their winter hibernation.

A USDA Forest Service interpreter will be on site at Boulder Cave to provide information about the cave and explain the White Nose Syndrome prevention protocol visitors must follow as they enter the cave., which include brushing and scraping off the soles of their shoes when entering and leaving the cave.

We’re all about providing great recreation on public lands while minimizing harmful impacts to wildlife,” Joan St. Hilaire, a USDA Forest Service wildlife biologist, said. “To help prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome, visitors are asked to brush off and scrape their shoes on an astro turf carpet prior to entering and leaving the cave.”

Cave visitors are also encouraged to wash clothing, outerwear, and gear between visits to different caves or other places bats congregate.

When visiting Boulder Cave, all visitors are required to carry a flashlight. A good pair of walking shoes and layered clothing are also recommended. Pets are not allowed.

“We can all do our part by limiting all noise, staying on the trail, not touching cave walls, and keeping lights off the ceiling (to avoid disturbing the bats),” St. Hilaire said.

The cave is closed annually from September through May to provide a secure refuge during the bats’ hibernation period.

A footbridge leads into Boulder Cave west of the community of Naches, Washington on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service file photo.

Source information: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (press release)

Researching ‘birds and bees’ for conifer trees

Douglas fir cone "flowers," Technically, Douglas-fir are not flowering plants, but its young female cones, shown here, are often referred to as “ flowers.” Genetic variation yields “ flowers” of various hues; it also influences the timing of flowering in different populations. Knowing when Douglas-fir are going to flower helps seed orchards have staff ready for the labor-intensive pollination process that yields high-quality Douglas-fir seeds. USDA Forest Service photo by Janet Prevey.

“Timing is everything, especially when it comes to tree sex.”

In the latest Science Findings, researchers from the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station delve into nature versus nurture in conifer reproduction.

To successfully reproduce, conifers, or cone-bearing trees, must have impeccable timing to open their female cones just as pollen is being released from from the male cones of nearby trees.

This timing is a response to temperature and other environmental cues. It is to the tree’s advantage to flower when risk of damaging frost is low, but early enough in the spring to take full advantage of the growing season.

Since Douglas-fir is ecologically important and the cornerstone of Pacific Northwest’s timber industry, seed orchard managers carefully breed different populations of the species to produce seedlings that will thrive in particular areas in need of replanting.

Understanding the environmental cues that influence the timing of flowering is important for predicting how reproduction and survival of trees will change in the future.

To address this need, a team of researchers with the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station developed a model that predicts, within an average of 5 days, when Douglas-fir will flower – which seed orchard managers are already using to plan and schedule time-sensitive tasks related to flowering in the orchards.

Read more in Science Findings #216, available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/58039 (click “view PDF”), or navigate directly to the PDF publication at https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi216.pdf.

Past editions of Science Findings are available here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/

To subscribe to Science Findings and other publications from the Pacific Northwest Research Station, click here.


Source information: Josh McDaniel is a science writer based in Colorado. Research by Janet S. Prevey, research ecologist, Connie Harrington, research forester and Brad St. Clair, research geneticist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station. Science Findings is a publication of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Forest Feature: Butterflies

A blue butterfly is perched on a purple thistle flower.

In July, our Pacific Northwest “Forest Feature” is the butterfly. Butterflies, like moths, are species of insects in the order Lepidoptra.

A gray-green butterfly with red-orange spots blends in against green woodland ground foliage.

A Clodius Parnassian butterfly is camouflaged against green foliage in the South Fork Skokomish watershed, located on the Olympic National Forest, June 7, 2016. USDA Forest Service photo.

Nearly 200 species, representing seven families of butterfly, are found in the Pacific Northwest – Hesperiidae, Lycaenidae, Nymphalidae, Papilionidae, Pieridae, Riodinidae, and Satyridae.

Moths are also members of the Lepidoptra order, but, there are some differences between them and their butterfly cousins: Butterflies have thready antennae with a knobbed or hooked tip, while a moth’s antenna may be thready or feathered, but will tapers to a point at the end. Both moths and butterflies hatch as caterpillars, but moths will cover their cocoon in fiber, soil, or leaves; a butterfly transforms to its adult form inside a smooth-coated chrysalis. Butterflies fly during the day, while moths are usually active at night.

Three butterflies native to the Pacific Northwest are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Oregon Silverspot (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) is federally listed as threatened, while the Taylor’s Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) and Fender’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi) butterfiles are listed as endangered species.

A fuzzy black caterpillar, observed from above, creeps up a stalk of grass.

A Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly caterpillar (post-diapause larvae), observed Feb. 26, 2016 on the Olympic National Forest . USDA Forest Service Photo by Karen Holtrop.

There are several reasons for this, but, a major one is that catepillars may be hungry, but some of them are picky eaters. Adult butterflies feed on pollen from many different sources. But as caterpillars, their eggs may need to be laid on on a specific species of plant to survive. This selectivity makes their species very vulnerable to invasive plants and noxious weeds, if those plants that crowd out the plants those caterpillars rely on, and to any environmental or other habitat changes that affect their preferred species for feeding or shelter.

You may think of butterflies as sun-loving creatures – and they are! Butterflies are cold-blooded, and must stay warm to fly. But forest meadows are a very important habitat to to Oregon Silverspot: The Siuslaw National Forest is one of the few remaining places you might spot it this butterfly; which thrives on foggy, breezy conditions.

Two of the six known remaining populations of Oregon Silverspot are on the forest, at Mt. Hebo and Cascade Head.

The butterfly’s survival is dependent on the early blue violet, Viola adunca, the only species on which the butterfly can successfully feed and develop as larvae.

A black, orange and white butterfly rests on a yellow wildflower.

The Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly, Euphydryas editha taylori, seen here in an undated photo, is a federally-listed endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. US Fish and Wildlife Service photo by A. Barna

Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly has lost 99% of its native habitat to development and suppressed wildland fires; paved roads, new buildings, and even trees have overtaken the prairie meadows that once hosted the native plants the butterfly relies on to lay eggs and for its caterpillars to feed upon after hatching.

One of the last remaining breeding areas for Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly is a military base, where explosives used in training set fires that have preserved the open prairie. Eggs are collected from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State each spring, raised under the supervision of scientists at the Oregon Zoo, and released back into the wild as caterpillars the following year.

The Fender’s Blue butterfly faces similar challenges in its native habitat, the upland prairies of the Willamette Valley. Establishing federally-designated protected habitat, using prescribed fire to expand prairies and reduce invasive grasses, and re-planting the prairie with native wildflowers – including Kincaid’s lupine, on which the butterflies lay most of their eggs – has helped increase the endangered butterfly’s numbers since it was federally listed in 2000.

The black-and-orange Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, might be one of the most recognizable butterfly species in our region. This regally-named butterfly found throughout North America, including the Pacific Northwest. Its larvae grow on several species of milkweed.

A monarch butterfly rests in the cup of a person's hand

A monarch butterfly rests in the cup of a person’s hand in an Aug. 1, 2016 USDA Forest Service photo.

Entymologists (researchers who study insects) warn that while the Monarch butterfly isn’t endangered yet, its numbers have been declining rapidly for a decade.

One theory is the butterflies are running into problems finding flowers, or flowers free of pesticides, when they migrate south for the winter. Another is that deforestation has reduced their winter habitat, and stressed the butterflies who crowding in to overwinter. But no one is quite sure.

Do you want to help butterflies survive and thrive here at home in the Pacific Northwest? One way to help is to plant species of flowering plants and shrubs that feed caterpillars for butterflies that are native to your area around homes or public spaces.

Have you heard of a “butterfly garden?” According to the Washington Dept. of Wildlife, you can plant a garden that feeds butterflies in a space as small as a container outside your home!

Butterflies like to feed on brightly-colored flowers planted in sunny places, especially those that are protected from the wind. You can find a list of suggested plants in this brochure. Not only will the flowers help butterflies (and moths), they may also attract other pollen and nectar-loving creatures – including hummingbirds, and bees!

Try to avoid using insecticides – even organic ones, like Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) – when you can. If you do use them, follow the instructions and follow your state agriculture service’s recommendations to minimize the risk of exposure to beneficial worms, caterpillars, or insects in your area.

One plant that should not be part of your butterfly garden is the “butterfly bush” (Buddleia davidii). This bush is native to Chile, and is considered a noxious weed and a highly invasive plant in the Pacific Northwest – which means it could become a threat to native plants that our local butterflies depend on.

Did you know?

  • Butterflies “taste” with their feet.
  • Butterflies can “see” ultraviolet light.
  • A butterfly’s skeleton is on the outside of its body. The exoskeleton protects it and keeps it from drying out.
  • A butterflies tongue is like a long straw, which curls back up under their body when not in use.
  • Some butterflies don’t poop! They burn everything they consume to generate the energy to fly.
  • The largest butterfly in the world is Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, Ornithoptera alexandrae. It has an average wingspan of almost 10”! No one is sure what the fastest butterfly is
  • Butterflies live in nearly every habitat, on every continent in the world – except Antarctica. This might be because butterflies are cold-blooded, and can’t fly if their body temperature drops below 86 degrees F.

More information:

General information:

Butterflies and Moths of North America (Butterfly and Moth Information Service):
https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/

Butterflies and Moths of Pacific Northwest Forests and Woodlands (USDA Forest Service):
https://www.fs.fed.us/foresthealth/technology/pdfs/MILLER_LEPIDOPTERA_WEB.pdf

Endangered & threatened species:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: ESA listed species information
https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489459
https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489449
https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489429

Oregon Zoo: Endangered and Threatened species conservation programs
https://www.oregonzoo.org/conserve/fighting-extinction-pacific-northwest/oregon-silverspot-butterfly
https://www.oregonzoo.org/conserve/fighting-extinction-pacific-northwest/taylors-checkerspot-butterfly

Siuslaw National Forest: Oregon Silverspot butterfly info
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/siuslaw/learning/nature-science/?cid=fseprd522077

Xerxes Society:
https://xerces.org/oregon-silverspot/
https://xerces.org/taylors-checkerspot/
https://xerces.org/fenders-blue/

Butterfly gardens:

North American Butterfly Association project (Butterflies and Moths of North America)
http://www.naba.org/

Butterflies and How to Attract Them (Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife):
https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/butterflies/
https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/butterflies/butterflies.pdf

Monarch butterfly lesson plans, activities, and projects:

Journey North
http://www.learner.org/jnorth/

Monarch Watch
www.monarchwatch.org

Monarch Lab (University of Minnesota)
https://monarchlab.org/

Forest Features highlight a new Pacific northwest species (or sometimes family, order or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

Two brown-winged butterflies with white spots rest on a set of spiky green and red leaves.

A pair of Two-Banded Checkered Skipper butterflies, Pyrgus ruralis, found during a survey May 18, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.


USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region

National Pollinator Week June 18-24

Two bees at the center of a yellow flower

It’s Pollinator Week! In 2018, the annual celebration of pollinators and their contributions to sustaining biodiversity, habitat and agriculture is observed June 18-24. Since 2010, this week has been a time to celebrate the contributions pollinators make to our nation, supported by official proclamations from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, U.S. Dept. of Interior, and governors of many states.

Around the world, pollinators are declining due to factors that threaten all biodiversity. Loss of habitat is the principal reason, followed by improper use of pesticides, pollution, and invasive species.

Policymakers, natural resource managers, private landowners, and others want to make informed decisions that consider the needs of pollinators. Consumers can choose products that have been produced in a pollinator-friendly manner. Educators can emphasize the importance of pollinators; teach about their life histories; and instill an appreciation for the essential role played by pollinators in living systems.

Everyone’s future flies on the wings of our pollinators.

To learn more about Pollinator Week (and the Pollinator Partnership), visit: http://pollinator.org/pollinator-week.

***

What is Pollination?

Pollination allows for plants to reproduce. Much like the animal kingdom, plants have male and female parts and need to transfer genes from one to the other to create seeds for the next generation of plants. The only way this can happen is when pollen grains from the anther (male) of the flower are transferred to a stigma (female).

Some plants are able to self-pollinate—meaning that they don’t need any help from an animal pollinator to reproduce. Others can be pollinated by wind that carries pollen grains from flower to flower. About 80 percent of all flowering plants, and three-quarters of the staple crops that are grown for human consumption rely on animal pollinators.

There are a number of animal pollinators. The most recognizable pollinators are probably bees, but everything from ants and beetles to bats and birds can help pollinate.

More information:

 

Did you know?

  • 1 out of 3 bites of food we eat are thanks to animal pollinators.
  • Almost 90% of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators for fertilization.
  • About 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators. Of those, 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats, and small mammals such as mice. The rest are insects like beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies and moths.
  • National forests and grasslands provide valuable migration habitat for the pollinators that allow everything from wildflowers to agricultural crops to thrive.
  • The USDA supports programs that help find homes for pollinators.
  • Honeybees are the most prolific animal pollinator—but pollinators range from insects like butterflies, wasps and ants, to mammals like bats, and even birds.
  • Pollinator populations, especially honeybees, have seen sharp declines in recent decades—there were about 6 million honeybee hives in the U.S. in 1940; that has declined to about 2.5 million today. Now more than ever, pollinators need habitat to keep our ecosystems and agricultural economy strong.
  • Pollinators play a key role in feeding American families and supporting the American economy. Pollinators contribute $15 billion annually to farm income in the U.S.
  • Worldwide, approximately 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend. Crops like almonds, apples, blueberries, melons, squash, even oranges and avocados are heavily reliant upon pollinators to reproduce and thrive.
  • The USDA Forest Service is a key agency in restoring degraded lands for pollinators and other wildlife, through the planting of native wildflowers that help connect birds, bees and other pollinating insects across the American landscape.

Suggested activities:

  • Plant a pollinator garden. Check out:
    http://www.kidsgardening.com/growingideas/projects/jan03/pg1.html. for gardening instructions, and for educational and curriculum
    resources.
  • Reduce chemical misuse. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to reduce
    damage to your plants and to protect pollinators by using less chemicals. You could
    intersperse food plants, like tomatoes, with inedible plants like marigolds. Marigolds are known to attract pest insects away from food plants. Learn more about IPM and gardening at: http://paipm.cas.psu.edu/homegarden/garden.html.
  • Limit lawn grass. Grass lawns offer little food or shelter for most
    wildlife, including pollinators. You can replace grass with a wild meadow or prairie
    plants. For a neater look, make a perennial border with native plants. Plants native
    to your area are adapted to your soil type, climate, precipitation, and local pollinators! You can get a list of plants native to your area at: http://www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat/nativeplants.cfm 
  • Provide water. All wildlife, including pollinators, need water. Some butterfly species sip water from muddy puddles to quench their thirst and get important minerals. You can provide water in a birdbath or even a shallow dish placed on the ground. Pile small stones or glass florist beads in the water so the pollinators can crouch low and sip from the surface of the water without falling into the water.

Forest botanist shares planting tips to protect pollinators

Close up photo of a butterfly feeding from a coral colored columbine blossom.

 

Close up of an Indian plum flower

An Indian plum flower blossoms on the Olympic National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service ph

OLYMPIA, Wash. – March 5, 2018 – I’ve been out and about on the Forest of late, and even though March has just begun, some of our native plants are beginning to show signs of life! Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) is in full glorious bloom right now and there’s a red flowering current (Ribes sanguineum) in my yard that looks like it could bloom any day now. Both of these native shrubs are important parts of the ecosystem on the Olympic National Forest, but they are also beautiful plants that are great additions to western Washington gardens. Not only do they look nice, but they also benefit pollinators and other wildlife around your home by providing food and shelter for these animals.Many of the pollinators that live on the Olympic National Forest might also find their way to your garden if you give them a reason to visit! Below are a couple of links to plant lists – both native and horticultural – that are attractive to a variety of pollinators, and that grow well in western Washington. Try some of these this year – especially the natives! – and see who shows up:

Who pollinates our plants?

Bees aren’t the only pollinators out there; butterflies, moths, birds, beetles and many other animals also pollinate plants. Some plants don’t rely on animals at all, but rather are adapted to rely primarily on the wind. Plants that are wind pollinated typically don’t have showy flowers – think grasses, oaks, alder, and our native hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). Plants that rely on animals for pollination typically have showy, smelly, and/or nectar producing flowers.

A bumblebee collects pollen from the center of a large yellow wildflower.

A bumblebee collects pollen from a wildflower on the Ochoco National Forest June 17, 2014 in this USDA Forest Service photo.

Some of our most conspicuous pollinators in western WA include hummingbirds, who transfer pollen from plant to plant “by accident” while they forage for nectar. Plants that rely heavily on hummingbirds for pollination will often have anthers – the pollen producing structures – that stick out of the flower so the hummingbird rubs against them when they drink nectar secreted from glands deep in the flower. The pollen then sticks to the hummingbird and is carried to the next flower it visits.

Our native bumble bees also make an appearance – keep an eye our native rhodies when they start to bloom this spring and maybe you’ll see “buzz pollination” in action. Some plants – including rhododendrons and azaleas – have evolved to be very conservative with their pollen and only release it under very specific circumstances, namely by buzz pollination.

These plants have anthers with a small pore at their tip where pollen is released. This happens only when and insect – usually a bumblebee – vibrates their flight muscles which produces a high-pitched buzzing sound; if you’re near a rhodie in spring, you’ll probably hear it. These vibrations cause the pollen to be released out of the pore in the anther, often explosively!

A bumblebee crawls on a pink flower blossom.

A bumblebee pollinates a wildflower, on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Aug. 5, 2008. USDA Forest Service photo by Tom Iraci.

The bumblebee then harvests the pollen, which is a nutritious food it uses to stock its’ nest. Some of that pollen will stick to its’ furry body and is then transferred to the next flower it visits. If you have a tuning fork (and who doesn’t), you can simulate this whole process on your own; I’ve heard that an electric toothbrush also works, but your neighbors may look at you funny after seeing you stick a toothbrush into the rhodies in your yard.

Honey bees are also a common visitor to our gardens and – although they are a non-native species – they are extremely important to agricultural crops like cherries, blueberries, apples, and many others. There is an entire industry dedicated to moving honey bee hives from crop to crop, which takes truckloads full of hives from one end of the country to another. Remember that truck that was full of bees that over turned on I-5 in Lynwood last year? That truck was likely headed to eastern Washington after spending time in California’s almond orchards, which annually require a staggering 31 billion honeybees (there are approximately 7.4 billion humans on the Earth, just to put that in perspective) to pollinate 810,000 acres of almond trees. The almond bloom in California is a massive event in the commercial beekeeping world, with truckloads of honey bees arriving from all across the country.

Butterflies are another type of pollinator, but represent just the adult stage in the lifecycle of these important insects. Before there are butterflies, there are eggs, larva (caterpillar), and pupa (the chrysalis). Each of these stages have different requirements including a food source and shelter to lay eggs and pupate.

A black caterpillar with orange tufts crawls across a red wildflower blossom.

A large caterpillar crawls across a wildflower on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service photo.

Often, a single butterfly species will require different plants depending on what stage of their lifecycle they are in, and different species require different sets of plant species. Here are some tips on how to attract butterflies to your garden by providing the habitat elements they need.

Please remember, DO NOT PLANT BUTTERFLY BUSH (Buddleja sp.)! Even though this plant is extremely attractive to butterflies, it is a noxious weed and is becoming a real problem in riparian areas in western Washington, Oregon, and other parts of the country.

Happy Spring!

Cheryl

Cheryl Bartlett is a USDA Forest Service botanist on the Olympic National Forest in western Washington.

A blue butterfly with white and black spots rests on a green leaf.

Mallow Scrub Hairstreak butterfly (Clodius Parnassian) rests atop a leaf on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest July 8, 2009 in a USDA Forest Service photo.