“Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants”, the new book by Heather Holm from Pollination Press is one of the most useful and informative field guides that I have seen in a long time.
The book is written for an upper midwestern United States audience and covers a selection of regional prairie, woodland edge, and wetland edge plant species and their pollinators and beneficial insects. The introduction says:
“This book focuses on pollination by insects (entomophily), highlighting the interactions between native plants and native pollinators as well as beneficial and other floral visitors. Reader learns about these interactions, how the plants are pollinated and how they (the reader) can use native plants to attract, observe and identify pollinators and ultimately sustain pollinator populations.”
Everything You May Want to Know About Beneficial Insects
“Pollinators of Native Plants” is nicely organized, well documented, and full of high quality, color photos (many taken by the author) of native plants and their pollinators and beneficial insect visitors. If you were not interested in, or aware of, native plants and their insect interactions before using this book, you will be hooked after you give it a try in the field.
The book has six chapters. Chapters one through three address pollination, pollinators, and pollinator conservation. Chapter three has a section on the importance of urban/suburban landscapes to native plant pollinators, discusses threats to native pollinators, and provides a conservation checklist. Chapters four through six deal with native plant-insect interactions of prairies, woodland edge, and wetland edge communities.
Holm also includes many useful charts of insect interactions, bee tongue lengths, and tables of species-by-species flowering times. Also included are useful visual glossaries of plant parts, bees, common bee genera, sample pollinator garden plans and a visual index to bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and bug, lacewings, spiders, and ants.
More Than Just Honey Bees
The common honey bee (a species introduced into the United States) of course comes to mind when many of us think of plant pollinators, but Holm informs us that this species is only a tiny fraction of the insect picture. Worldwide, she says “ . . . there are close to twenty thousand bee species and North America is home to around four thousand species.” Wisconsin is home to about 400 native bee species. Some of these species are social, some communal, and others solitary. Bees nest in many places including hollow stems, decaying wood, and some, like cellophane bees, leaf cutter bees, and bumble bees, nest in the ground.
“Pollinators of Native Plants” is well suited for use in the field. I was especially interested in Chapter Four because it is devoted to a selection of prairie plants (alphabetical by scientific name). For each species its flowering time is listed in a bar chart and other features such as flower and fruit descriptions and preferred habitat and companion plants are listed. The heart of the each plant’s description is a section on plant-insect interactions which includes photos of the flower and the insects most likely to visit it.
Armed with this information I headed out to my prairie garden to see what I could learn. I was surprised at how easy it was to use. I just picked a plant or flower to observe, and then tried to identify the insects visiting it. For example, I watched the harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) flowers in my garden and quickly noticed that they were being visited by Green sweat bees (Agapostemon species) which feed on nectar and small carpenter bees (Ceratina species) which go after the harebell pollen.
On later trips to the prairie garden I have identified a dozen or more native insects including Mason wasps (Parazumia species) on wild bergamont (Monarda fistulosa); the great black wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) on dotted mint (Monarda punctata) and soldier beetles (Chauliliognathus species) on nearly everything.
Interestingly, each of these three insects feed on nectar and although they are not pollinators, are considered beneficial insects. Holm explains that the mason wasp “cannot legitimately reach the nectar of wild bergamont.” (page 95) and instead chews a hole in the base of the tubular flowers. She goes on to tell us that other small bees and the soldier beetle feed on nectar through the holes made by the mason wasp. Great black wasps, like the monarch butterfly, feed directly on the flower’s nectar.
For More Information
“Pollinators of Native Plants” (305 pages $29.95 from Pollination Press) is an essential book and should be on the shelf (or in the backpack) of restoration ecologists, native plant gardeners, those of use who plant native plants in public spaces, or anyone fascinated by insects. To learn more visit the book’s web site click here; visit the author’s Facebook page, her blog Restoring the Native Landscape, or ask to join the native pollinators group on Facebook.