What comes to mind when you think of a pollinator plant? If you love monarch butterflies, it’s likely milkweed (Asclepias spp.). If you love zebra swallowtail butterflies, it’s pawpaw (Asimina triloba).

But, if you love Zabulon skippers (a kind of butterfly), you would know you need to have purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) or purpletop grass (Tridens flavus)? The caterpillars of these butterflies can only grow and transform into adult butterflies if they have those plants to eat. As adults, they, and many other bees, wasps, flies, beetles and other pollinators need pollen and/or nectar.

This year’s Bee Friendly to Pollinators Day on Aug. 17 showcases the diversity of pollinators that depend on the habitats we live in, conserve, restore and create. The Guilford County Master Gardeners and Guilford County Beekeepers will host this family day in the demonstration garden at the Guilford County Cooperative Extension Center.

The garden beautifully showcases diverse plants to support pollinators with perennial wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, shade trees, fruit trees, vegetable gardens and a roof garden. Having a mixture of low-growing to canopy (or rooftop) plants helps ensure there is a niche for lots of pollinators and other wildlife.

This diversity includes host plants for specialists such as black swallowtail butterflies — their caterpillars need plants in the parsley family, such as native golden Alexanders, and culinary herbs including dill, parsley and fennel.

Native trees such as white oaks support nearly 500 species of butterflies and moths that in spring get fed to baby birds who depend on the soft bodied caterpillars their parents find. Native vines such as coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) bloom in conjunction with the spring and fall migration of our one bird pollinator, the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) supports the rose mallow bee (aka okra, cotton or hibiscus bee). If you want to attract and support pollinators, set out native plants. Pollinator-friendly gardens are primarily natives, but many non-native non-invasive plants can be beneficial, including annuals such as zinnias or perennial herbs such as rosemary and thyme.

Bee Friendly to Pollinators Day is packed with fun and learning for the whole family. Besides the chance to tour the demonstration gardens, highlights will include:

  • Hands-on activities for kids
  • Instruction on planning your own pollinator garden
  • Learning how to protect pollinators
  • Butterfly, bee and bug displays
  • Honey tasting and learning about beekeeping
  • Talking with Guilford Master Gardeners and other pollinator experts
  • Greensboro Parks & Recreation’s Eco Bus and Live Animal display.

When planting for pollinators, you need to eliminate or reduce pesticide applications. Instead, the habitat you provide will help reduce pest outbreaks. Pollinator habitat supports natural enemies of crop pests (predators and parasitoids such as wasps, beetles, flies, spiders, lacewings and ambush and assassin bugs). Many of these natural enemies eat nectar and pollen at one stage of their lives, while consuming insects such as aphids, white flies or stink bugs at another.

Remember that chewed plants are supporting the caterpillars that turn into butterflies or moths. Although many of us spent our childhoods outside, many of our urban and younger neighbors need help understanding these connections. Adding signs explaining how your plants support bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife helps start conversations. Signs made by your child or grandchild are especially engaging and let us learn how they see the pollinator world we hope to support.

Remember, pollinators help renew the plants that provide clean air and water to keep us healthy. Guilford County Master Gardeners welcome visitors to the demonstration garden to learn about ecologically sound landscaping throughout the year. So be sure to attend the Bee Friendly to Pollinators Day to celebrate the diversity of our community.

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Nancy Lee Adamson is a senior pollinator conservation specialist at Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

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