Planting the Arboretum gardens this season just got a lot more meaningful, considering that we are supporting a host of pollinating insect and bird species. From seasonal landscape exhibits, to bee spirals, to feeding waystations, we have developed an array of exhibits and plantings to encourage our visitors and members to join us in the Arboretum’s “Year of the Pollinator.”

Some may wonder why pollinator species are so important to human existence. For starters, more than 90 percent of our food crops depend on insect pollinators, and insects alone contribute more than 24 billion dollars to the U. S. economy annually. In addition, insects are an important part of the environment as they are needed by many native trees, wildflowers and other seedbearing plants for pollination. These healthy plants in turn produce oxygen, filter toxins from and stabilize the soil, and keep our waterways clear of sediment and other pollutants.

Pollinator_BeeBut why do insects, bats, birds and bees seek out pollen in the first place? Pollen is considered a great protein source for insects and is a bee’s “superfood.” A single grain of pollen is about 40 percent protein with half of that existing as amino acids ready for the insect’s body to consume. Nectar is sipped by flies, wasps, butterflies, hummingbirds and moths, and is a high sucrose, fructose and glucose liquid energy source. Their movement in, on and among the flowers spreads pollen grains that are picked up on their bodies and transported in their ongoing search for more nectar.

Want to join in on the pollinator planting fun? Here are some powerfully popular pollinator plants that you can get for your own home:

Agastache species (Agastache sp.)

Aster (Symphyotricum spp.)

Beardtoungue (Penstemon spp.)

Blazing star (Liatris spp.)

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Catmint (Nepeta faassenii)

Climbing aster (Ampelaster carolinianus)

Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum)

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)

Indigo (Baptisia spp.)

Ironweed (Vernonia lettermanii and V. noveboracensis)

Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium dubium and other species)

Lanceleaf blanketflower (Gaillardia aestivalis) Zone 7-9

Lesser calamint (Calamintha nepta)

Milkweed species (Asclepais verticillata, A. viridifolia, A. amplesicaulis, A.  exaltata, A. incarnate, A.  rubra and A.  syriaca)

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)

Oregano (Origanum laevigatum)

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Sneezeweed (Helenium spp.)

Spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.)

Spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata)

Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis)

Stonecrop (Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’)

All of these plants need full sun sites with well-drained, loose garden soils. As many of these plants are American natives, they will need to be watered weekly after planting to get a strong root system established. Once plants are established and growing, they will need less watering and may survive with regular rain water as the primary irrigation source. Spent flowers can be cut and foliage growth can be pruned annually to ready the planting bed for the next season. This selection of plants produces flowers in spring, summer and fall, which provides food for pollinators over many months. All plants are hardy to plant hardiness in Zones 6 – 8 with several plants that are suitable further north in colder zones.

In our gardens, let’s choose plants this year that pollinators will be happy to frequent.

BCLogoIn honor of National Pollinator Week, The North Carolina Arboretum, in partnership with the Asheville and Hendersonville affiliates of Bee City USA, will host a special Pollination Presentation and Celebration on Tuesday, June 21, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Acclaimed author Heather Holm will present on two topics, “Gardening for Bees, Butterflies & Beneficial Insects” and “Selecting Native Trees and Shrubs that Support Pollinators,” and she will also be available for a book signing as part of the event. Pre-registration is required for both presentations. Standard Arboretum parking fees apply, and a $5 suggested donation will be collected at the door to support Bee City USA. For more information, please click here.