Newsroom Midwest Region

Pollinators sweeten summer foods

June 18, 2018

Bicolored striped-sweat bee pollinating a sunflower. Photo courtesy of Sankax/Creative Commons.
Bicolored striped-sweat bee pollinating a sunflower. Photo courtesy of Sankax/Creative Commons.

Pollinators are a vital part of nature. They also provide a vital service to farmers. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognize the economic value of native pollinators in the U.S., which is estimated at $3 billion a year. We also recognize that they do this for FREE! Scientists are increasingly discovering how native pollinators can contribute to crop pollination. Let’s meet some favorite summer foods and their pollinators.


Raspberry

Monarch butterfly drinking a raspberry flower. Photo courtesy of Edward K. Boggess/Creative Commons.
Monarch butterfly drinking a raspberry flower. Photo courtesy of Edward K. Boggess/Creative Commons.

Although raspberries, along with blackberries and boysenberries, are self-pollinating, insect activity is still responsible for about 95 percent of pollination. It’s the sugar! The flower nectar has a high sugar content which attracts an abundance of pollinating insects. And, increasing pollination increases fruit set, while it decreases fruit malformities. Learn how we are working with a boysenberry farmer in California.


Coriander/cilantro

Margined leatherwing on cilantro flowers. Photo courtesy of Scott Sherrill-Mix/Creative Commons.
Margined leatherwing on cilantro flowers. Photo courtesy of Scott Sherrill-Mix/Creative Commons.

It’s a love-hate relationship for both humans and insects. Blooming coriander is highly attractive to pollinators and is also a natural pest control in your garden. Some people think it tastes lemony and bright - others think it tastes like soap! A 2012 study found that there might be a specific gene in our brains that makes people very sensitive to the organic compound aldehyde that gives cilantro its characteristic odor.


Cucumber

Bee pollinating squash. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.
Bee pollinating squash. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.

To pollinate just one flower, crops like cucumbers, melon and squash may require more than 18 visits from pollinators! This is why insect pollination is essential, especially from native ground nesting bees like the squash bee.


Blueberry

Bee pollinating blueberries. Photo courtesy of Mathesont/Creative Commons.
Bee pollinating blueberries. Photo courtesy of Mathesont/Creative Commons.

Blueberry pollen is sticky and heavy. In order to set fruit, the flowers must be pollinated by insects. Numerous native pollinators, including bumble bees and solitary bees are important blueberry pollinators.


Sunflower

Long-horned bee. Photo courtesy of Katja Schulz/Creative Commons.
Long-horned bee. Photo courtesy of Katja Schulz/Creative Commons.

This native giant flower is actually many tiny blooms that several bees love, like long-horned and sunflower bees. Sunflowers can remove toxins, like lead, arsenic and uranium from contaminated soil and have been used to clean up some of the world's biggest environmental disasters, including Fukushima, Chernobyl and Hiroshima.


Avacado

Harvesting avocados. Photo courtesy of Scott & Emily/Creative Commons.
Harvesting avocados. Photo courtesy of Scott & Emily/Creative Commons.

We love them, so do pollinators. Maybe a little too much! Our skyrocketing demand is having an impact on a pollinator, the monarch butterfly. Did you know that 80 percent of the avocados we consume come from Michoacán, Mexico? This also happens to be the winter home for eastern monarchs. Farmers are clearing the monarchs roosting trees to pave way for avocados. What avocados can you choose to protect monarchs? Buy avocados grown in the United States or Mexican fair trade.


In addition to the food we eat, pollinators help clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather and support other wildlife. Pollinator populations are changing. Many populations are in decline and this decline is attributed to many factors including habitat loss. Learn more about how we're working with farmers and ranchers to provide habitat for wildlife.