The importance of pollinators

With spring just around the corner and the flowers that bloom, that blooming attracts pollinators. These include honey bees, flies, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, and wasps. This includes for Indiana, 430 species of bees, 144 species of butterflies, 2,000 species of moths and many flies, wasps, ants and beetles.

Some people might say, “Who cares?” Well, if you like melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, apples, peaches or strawberries, you’d better like the species listed, for they are what those crops require to grow.

Please don’t be like the person that told me she didn’t care because she got all her stuff from the grocery store. I think my jaw dropped, (meanwhile I mentally shook my head and face-palmed myself), then I had to work backwards to give her the story about how that stuff got into her grocery store, including the pollinators at the farms it came from. I’m still not sure she understood.

However, we’re not going to talk about flowers this time. What most people haven’t thought about or don’t realize is that trees and shrubs are also pollinators.

There are about 32 native trees and bushes that are used. Some of these are general, while some are known host plants for certain critters and others are called “Pollinator Magnets,” which means all types of pollinators will use the plant.

The most well-known is the milkweed, the host plant for the Monarch butterfly, which is the only plant the butterfly lays its eggs on and the caterpillar eats. For woody plants, the Pawpaw tree, for example, is a host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, as it is the only plant the butterfly uses. The spicebush is a host plant for the Spicebush swallowtail but also the Eastern Tiger swallowtail.

Among the more common woody plants that are considered “magnets” include the buttonbush, black cherry, highbush blueberry, and the redbud.

While we’re talking about pollinators, the first time you see a bug on your plants (woody or otherwise) don’t grab the insecticide and start spraying; there are only a few pests known to cause problems, the rest are either helpful or harmless. Spraying “just because” or “just in case” is not necessary. If you must spray, never ever put it on the blooms since that is where the pollinators go; wait for evening when the pollinators are gone and hold off until the wind isn’t blowing. Read the label of whatever you’re using, even if you have used it for years; sometimes the labels change.

For a good source of more information, try the Purdue Extension Office or go to for printed information, and there’s also an app, Purdue Plant Doctor, available at the same website.

If you want to learn more, you’ll want to attend the upcoming Green Thumb event. Hancock County Master Gardeners host a free “Green Thumb” event about pollinators at 9:30 a.m. March 10 at the Hancock County Public Library, 900 W. McKenzie Road.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. Send comments to