Taking the “Pollinator Plunge”

After a decade of photographing native plants and native birds, I have decided to take the “pollinator plunge”.  Why?  Plants unable to reproduce will not persist over time.  A few of our native plants can self-pollinate but most depend upon a butterfly, a bee, a fly, or a wasp to carry grains of pollen to another blossom, resulting in fruits and seeds.

Native bees raise their young on stores of nectar and pollen they gather from flowering plants.  That’s why  bees are so busy.  All our native birds need nesting sites and all depend upon pollinators to raise their young.

Plants need pollinators.  Pollinators need plants.  And birds need both.  It is both very simple and wonderfully complicated.

The great majority of pollinators are insects, all of which have complex life cycles.  Butterflies require native hosts, plants that feed their caterpillars.  Bee larvae need pollen as food.  Flowers produce an excess of pollen, most consumed by insects.  A tiny fraction of pollen is incidentally deposited on another blossom.  Many pollinators have very specific dependencies on native plants. Think milkweeds and monarchs.  Flower shape often limits suitable pollinators.  Tubular flowers such as honeysuckle need pollinators with long tongues including hummingbirds.

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird Male Visits Native Honeysuckle.

So where to start?  Chickasaw plum is one of our early blooming native shrubs.  In early spring bright white blossoms decorate open fields  As you approach a Chickasaw plum in full bloom you can hear the activity as butterflies and bees mob the shrubs.

A Chickasaw Plum in Full Bloom in a Sandhills Field.

Field sparrows overwinter on a diet of grass seeds but as spring unfolds, insects become an important part of their diet.  As with other native birds, field sparrow chicks will be raised on a parent-supplied stream of insects and spiders.

A Field Sparrow Visits a Chickasaw Plum in mid-March.

By mid-May, the fruit of Chickasaw plums begin to ripen and provide food to birds and other wildlife, including Summer Tanagers.

A Female Summer Tanager with a Ripening Chickasaw Plum.

As spring arrives, I look forward to the blossoms of our native Chickasaw plum.  They mark the start of a new season of native plants, nesting birds, and the pollinators that make it all possible.

Over time, I hope to share some pollinator anecdotes.  Short stories about a native plant, a native pollinator, and maybe a bird.  Most of my posts will raise more questions than they answer.  Questions that provide a good excuse for another outing.  And an excuse for me to share another story.