Help save the pollinators

By Mack Johnson - Contributing columnist

You’ve heard the old saying, “an apple a day will keep the doctor away.” Well, to keep those apples coming, we need to seriously pay attention to the plight of our pollinators.

Pollinators help transfer pollen from the male part of the flower to the female part, ensuring seed production and/or completely formed fruit. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value annually; other organizations claim as high as $40 billion. It is generally estimated that anywhere from 66 to 85 percent of our food is directly affected by pollinators.

Since 2006, there have been significant losses in the honeybee population. This apparent surge in hive loss has been termed colony collapse disorder. There has been much finger pointing to what may be the cause, but science has yet to find one prominent explanation. There can be several causes that affect colony health. Among those causes are management practices and chemical use, including pesticides, chemical toxins in the environment, varroa mites, undiscovered pests, diseases, limited food sources, and even genetically modified crops have received some attention.

Before we dive too far, we should discover what pollinators are. Most folks are quick to realize that honeybees are pollinators, but they are not the only ones. Honeybees are responsible for the largest percentage of crops to be pollinated. There are 4,000 native species of bees in the United States. More than 400 of them are found in North Carolina. Coincidentally, the honeybee is not native to America but to Europe. The most common pollinators are bees and butterflies, but other creatures pollinate plants. Among those pollinators are bats, moths, beetles, ants, hummingbirds, and wasps. Native pollinators include bumblebees, mason bees, blueberry bees, sweat bees, squash bees, miner bees, cutter bees, and carpenter bees.

What can we do to help the plight of the pollinators? Like all creatures, pollinators need food, water, and shelter. Everyone can plant more food sources. Plant a variety of plants known to be great sources for pollinators. Plan ahead so you will have flowering plants every season for a constant food supply. Allowing your winter vegetables to flower will provide nectar and pollen early in the season — a critical time when few other plants are blooming, and erratic weather can hurt their food supply. Annuals such as cleome, cosmos, zinnias, and sunflowers are great bee attractors. Native plants such as milkweed, aster, Joe-pye weed, bee balm, goldenrod, and blazing star are excellent choices for pollinators. A great online resource for recommended plant selections is

The week of June 19-24 was National Pollinators Week. Because of scheduling conflict and other unforeseen circumstances, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, will celebrate pollinators Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Robeson County Farmers Market, located in downtown Lumberton at Eighth and Elm streets. The Robeson County Beekeepers will join us as we offer shelter demonstrations, information, giveaways, and youth activities to help us BEE aware and BEE educated on preserving our pollinators.

To learn more about pollinators, contact Mack Johnson, Extension horticultural agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 910-671-3276, by email at [email protected], or visit our website at

By Mack Johnson

Contributing columnist

Mack Johnson is a horticultural agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center.

Mack Johnson is a horticultural agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center.