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Landmarks Focus: Native Pollinators

PictureA bee visits a native Cobweb Thistle.

What do food, wildflowers, and modern medicine have in common? They all rely, to varying degrees, on pollinators for their success. Pollinators are an essential part of the ecosystems in Orange County. In addition to pollinating locally grown crops like avocados, oranges and strawberries, they are necessary for the reproduction of almost all the wildflowers that are on display this Spring on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Pollinators are estimated to be responsible for at least a third of human food production and are crucial to the survival of flowering plants all over the world.

Mary Nolan, a volunteer with Irvine Ranch Conservancy since 2015, leads programs at the Conservancy’s one-of-a-kind Native Seed Farm to teach the public more about pollination. Mary explains that the work of pollination is shared by bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, birds and even the wind! Mary says pollination occurs when its practitioners “visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from spot to spot.” This ensures proliferation of the species. While pollination is often a byproduct of an animal’s natural feeding behavior on a flower, it is an incredibly important process that affects the entire food chain.

You may have heard that some pollinators, including bees, are in decline, but there are steps you can take to support their health. Mary recommends growing plants that are native to Southern California. “Pollinators are attracted to flowering plants, so choose which pollinators you want to see in your garden and grow native plants that those species are attracted to,” she says. Mary’s favorite pollinator is the hummingbird, which are “so colorful and super-efficient at pollinating!” Hummingbirds are attracted to California fuchsia, manzanita, sage and many other native plants.

If you don’t have outdoor space, you can still help by signing up for a stewardship activity at the Native Seed Farm. The farm grows and harvests seed from more than 50 native plant species for use in restoration projects across the Landmarks. These plants form a symbiotic relationship with local pollinators in which each relies on the other for survival, and the farm has become a haven for insects, bees, butterflies, and birds. “We’ve identified at least five different [hummingbird] species at the Native Seed Farm in the three years it has been in its current location,” says Mary. The farm’s bee population is growing too, with an assist from an Eagle Scout who created and installed native bee habitats on the Farm’s premises.

If you want to learn more, join Mary Nolan for Wildflowers & Pollinators at the Native Seed Farm every other Sunday. You will go for an educational walk to admire the blooms, learn which plants attract which pollinators, and hear about how the plants are used in local restoration efforts. Find more activities like these on letsgooutside.org