A gentle breeze
Shakes the honeysuckle tree
A Monarch takes flight
Honeysuckle is the name for a group of shrubs, vines, or herbs in the Caprifoliaceous family. These plants can be identified by their opposite leaves, and flowers that have either bilateral or radial symmetry and flare into a trumpet-like shape(1).
One thing that the honeysuckle is known for is its ability to attract pollinator species like hummingbirds, bees, moths, and butterflies. Because of this, the honeysuckle can be a good member of your pollinator garden. A pollinator garden is a garden that has been cultivated to attract and support the birds and insects that move pollen from plant to plant.
The plants in a pollinator garden support the pollinators by providing them with food in the form of flower nectar. These pollinators then support humans by pollinating the fruits and vegetables that we eat. The researchers at Michigan State University state, “Approximately 75 percent of all food crops grown in the United States depend on pollinator animals such as insects, reptiles, birds and some mammals.”(3) They also comment that, “These gardens provide clear, real life examples of the interdependent nature of our food ecosystem, and the valuable services that pollinators – yes, even insects – provide to human society.”(3) But why are we talking about pollinator gardens? Aren’t there enough flowers out there?
The focus on pollinator gardens is a relatively recent concept. Naturalists and ecologists began noting the decline of pollinator species as a result of habitat loss and pesticides. Tara Mitchell writes in an article for the Ecological Landscape Alliance, “The goal of the effort is to provide sufficient food (nectar and pollen) to reverse the decline of pollinators, bees in particular, and to provide habitat (milkweed) for monarch butterflies.” (4) Mitchell then continues by stating:
“Bees, both the European honey bee and native bees, are not only essential for the reproduction of many flowering plants, but are also responsible for pollinating billions of dollars’ worth of agricultural crops. Monarch butterflies, although not economically important pollinators, are also a focus of the Pollinator Garden effort due to their popularity and their highly visible and drastic decline (around 90% over 20 years).” (4)
The need for the intentional planting of pollinator gardens is more important than ever. With the loss of wild places where flowers and pollinators naturally exist, it is up to us to support these vital parts of the ecosystem.
Pollinator gardens don’t necessarily need to be big. You can plant flowers in a window box or in a container on your front porch. Even these little places will contribute to the well-being of our natural environments. If you are looking for more information about planting a pollinator garden, the University of Michigan released “Tips for Planting a Pollinator Garden” which can provide you with the basics.
One of the key tips in planting a pollinator garden is to plant native species. And it is at this point, where I want to briefly come back to honeysuckle. There are a variety of honeysuckles present in the Northern United States and not all of them are native. Bush honeysuckle like the Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackki), Morrow’s honeysuckle (Loniceria morrowii) are considered invasive species and have spread widely. The challenge with invasive species is that “they compete with native plants for sunlight, moisture and pollinators. And while birds eat the fruit, it is poorer in fats and nutrients than fruits from native plants, so the birds do not get enough nutrients to help sustain long flights during migrations”(6). So, if you want to plant honeysuckle in your pollinator garden, choose a native species because it will benefit your local plants and animals.
In this post, we are only scratching the surface of this topic. There is much more out there to learn about pollinator plants, pollinator species, and the role that humans have in supporting this relationship. I hope to share more research as the months progress. But in the meantime, do you have any favorite pollinators or pollinator plants? Please share so we can learn about this topic together.