These pollinators aren’t winning any beauty contests

Bees and butterflies – the beauty queens of bugs – have reached celebrity status in the world of pollination. But, while they get the limelight, they’re only a small portion of the over 200,000 species that help produce our crops.  These less adorable species include beetles, ants, moths, wasps and even flies. More than 80% of all flowering plants in the world require the service of pollinators, along with more than 1,200 commercial crops. Without pollinators, we lose 1 out of every 3 bites of food and more than $20 billion of the US economy.

Awareness of the decline of the monarch butterfly and the honeybee has spurred communities across the country into action to ensure their survival.  But what about the less celebrated? 

Let’s take a look at some of these unsung garden heroes.


Hover Flies

Hover Flies, also known as Syrphid Flies, are a large group of medium to large flies with black or brown bodies, yellow banded abdomens and two wings.  Resembling a bee or wasp, adults can be seen hovering above flowers, feeding on their nectar. They can’t bite or sting but may try to steal some of your salty sweat from time to time. The larvae play a beneficial role in gardens, consuming up to 30 aphids per day – a great natural pest control. Hover flies feed on the same flowers preferred by bees, such as purple coneflowers, blanketflowers and sunflowers.

Black and yellow stripes don’t always belong to bees. Hover flies can easily be mistaken for bees but these petite pollinators don’t have stingers.

Hawk Moths

Experts at finding sweet-smelling flowers at night, hawk moths have the longest tongues of any moth or butterfly  – some up to 14” long!  These acrobatic fliers include sphinx and hummingbird moths, built with stout bullet-shaped bodies and long, narrow wings.  See them mostly at night hovering in place enjoying nectar from heavily fragranced flowers. While many tomato gardeners, admittedly, fear the larvae of the hawk moth (a.k.a. green hornworms), the adults are excellent pollinators for your garden.

Hawk moths, including this Hummingbird Moth, have long tongues, or proboscis, to suck nectar from flowers, similar to a straw.

Soldier Beetles

Beetles present the greatest diversity of insects and pollinators, with more than 450,000 known species.  Regular flower visitors like the soldier beetle feed on pollen and even chew on flowers.  Solider beetles are one type of “mess and soil” pollinators, as they will defecate within flowers in the process of carrying pollen from one flower to another.  Soldier Beetles are commonly seen on flowers that are strongly fruity and open during the day such as marigolds, magnolias and many flowering herbs.    

Beetles have been pollinators for millions of years.  Based on fossil records, they were among the first insects to visit flowering plants as far back as 150 million years ago.

Ten Things You Can Do in Your Yard to Encourage Pollinators

1. Plant a pollinator garden—provide nectar and feeding plants (flowers and herbs).  Visit our website for more information on planting a pollinator garden or register your existing garden.

2. Provide a water source—place shallow dishes of water in sunny areas or create a muddy spot.

 3. Provide shelter and overwintering habitat (bee boxes, undisturbed soil areas, and piles of woody debris).

4. Stop using insecticides and reduce other pesticides.

5. Provide sunny areas out of the wind.

6. Use native plant species whenever possible—mimic local natural areas.

7. Grow flowers throughout season. Provide a variety of colors and shapes.

 8. Plant in clumps and layers. Use trees, shrub layers, with some low growing perennials and vines—intermix with flowering annuals.

9. Use compost instead of commercial fertilizers.

 10. Look but do not touch.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge

Last year over 100 homes in The Woodlands registered their garden or yard as a “Pollinator Garden.” Join your neighbors this year in providing much-need support for pollinators by registering with the Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. This village challenge aims to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and how habitat creation supports their populations.

Many pollinators – bees, moths, butterflies, beetles and more have experienced a drastic decline the last few decades due to pesticides, herbicides and loss of habitat. Fortunately, each of us can play a role in turning this situation around. Our suburban yards are prime real estate for feeding and sheltering pollinators!

A registered garden provided the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical-free zone. Don’t worry if you think your garden might not qualify. The garden registration form helps you put the necessary components in place, whether you’re starting from scratch or making a few additions to an established garden. You’ll find easy-to-follow guidelines, such as offering nectar-producing (flowering) plants for each season, leaving some patches of bare ground for burrowing insects, supplying a water source (bird baths work great) and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. Native plant lists are included to help with any shopping.

Registration received from June 1, 2021 through December 1, 2021 count towards the 2021 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your village association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands GREEN and Project PolliNation, will donate funds to the three village associations with the most points for their scholarship program.

Did you register last year? Complete this form and share what additional steps you took in creating a habitat for pollinators.

The village challenge is just one part of the Township’s Plant for Pollinators Program, a community-wide effort to support our pollinator populations. Distribution of native milkweed to the public, installation of pollinator gardens in parks and schools, and educational outreach are a few of the others. Check out the Plant for Pollinators webpage or contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department to learn more and get involved.

Check out these past articles to learn more about local pollinators. 


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Smarter About Sustainability Seminar

What a turnout for our two-part seminar on Saturday! Our presenters provided some great resources for residents to save water, support pollinators and be better environmental stewards. You can find these below.  

Please don’t hesitate to contact Bob or Lauren with questions or let them know if you enjoyed their presentation by taking this 3-minute survey.  

Your New Smart Water Meter 

Bob Dailey guided residents through using the WaterSmart Customer Portal. This website allows customers of the Woodlands Water Agency to view their water usage and bill, identify potential leaks, set notifications for excess use and get alerts about freezes or other weather events that may impact your water use. An app is in development and until it’s ready, the WaterSmart Customer Portal can be easily viewed on your phone, desktop or tablet.  

Quick links for Woodlands Water Agency water-saving resources: 

Missed the presentation? View the recorded seminar on our YouTube channel.


Creating a Pollinator Paradise Your Neighbors Will Love 

Lauren has spent her spare time transforming her Houston home gardens into a pollinator-friendly habitat that is beautiful, beneficial to local wildlife AND blends well with her suburban neighborhood. In this presentation, Lauren shared easy steps for creating a pollinator paradise at home that your family can enjoy and will please your neighbors too! 

 

Lauren highlighted the following invasive plants commonly found in our landscapes and  encouraged all of us to remove and replace with natives when creating your pollinator paradise.   

  • Chinese Tallow 
  • Elephant Ears 
  • Nandina (heavenly bamboo) 
  • Bradford Pear 
  • Ligustrum 
  • Pampas Grass 
  • Japanese Honeysuckle 
  • Chinese Privet 

Texasinvasives.org offers a wealth of helpful information on invasive species in our state and region. Learn how to identify key invasives in our area and take action today. 

Missed the presentation? View the recorded seminar on our YouTube channel.


After you’ve created your pollinator paradise, be sure to register your garden. The annual Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge kicks off June 1, 2021.  Register your garden before December 1, 2021 and support your Village Association Scholarship Fund. For more details and to register, visit the Plant for Pollinators webpage. 

Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Spice up your pollinator garden

Who doesn’t love festooning a homemade pizza with just-picked basil? Or muddling fresh mint into a glass of tea? If you’re like me, you cherish your herb garden. What’s more, these culinary caches, big or small, can serve more than the chef. They can double as a dinner table for visiting pollinators, too! Many herbs provide nectar or serve as host plants for caterpillars. Support your local bees, butterflies and moths by adding these six herbs to your garden or patio

  1. Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

A fast-growing plant that adds a touch of delicacy and height to flowerbeds. This perennial herb produces yellow flowers and grows up to 5 feet tall. Avoid planting fennel next to dill, caraway, or coriander (included on this list below) as it can cross-pollinate, likely reducing its seed production. Plant in full sunlight.

Attracts : Black and Anise Swallowtails for both nectar and as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Use it in the kitchen: Fennel’s anise flavor works well in both savory and sweet recipes. A popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, add the feathery fronds to salads and soups for a delicate flavor.

2. Caraway  Carum carvi 

This biennial herb can grow up to two feet tall. Enjoy its carrot-like foliage during the first growing season. Clusters of tiny white and pinkish flowers resembling Queen Anne’s lace appear in its second year which will attract a number of pollinators. All parts of the caraway herb are edible, and seeds can be harvested once flowers fade in the fall. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Yellow sulphurs and metalmark butterflies enjoy the nectar. Black swallowtails use caraway as a host plant.  

Use it in the kitchen: Add caraway seed to soups and stews for an earthy flavor with a hint of citrus and pepper.  

3. Cumin  Cuminum cyminum 

Dainty white flowers attract small butterflies from this low growing plant. Reaching a height around 15 inches, cumin’s slender branches resemble many of the other herbs listed below. A member of the parsley family, cumin requires the same growing requirements as carrots, cilantro and parsley. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Blues, hairstreaks, sulphurs and many other small to medium-sized butterflies. 

Use it in the kitchen: A key ingredient in Mexican, Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines. An intensely warm, earthy, and also sweet flavor perfect for both savory and dessert dishes. 

4. Anise  Pimpinella anisum 

Anise is a low spreading, bright green bush herb that grows about two feet tall and wide. These feathery plants add an airy presence in the garden and are blanketed in snowy white clusters. Both seeds and leaves are edible. Plant in full sun. 

Attracts: Swallowtails, including the two-tailed and pipevine. Black and anise swallowtails use as a host plant. 

Use it in the kitchen: Reminiscent of licorice, add anise seeds to breads, cookies, and candy. Leaves make a garnish or crush the leaves and add to any number of recipes. 

5. Dill  Anethum graveolens 

Add contrast and color to your flowerbed with dill. Although delicate looking, dill is a fairly hardy annual that grows quickly and produces showy yellow flowers. This annual herb can grow as tall as five feet and as wide as three feet. Plant in full sun or a location that receives just a bit of afternoon shade during our intense summer days.  

Attracts: Anglewings, tortoiseshells and sulphurs. Host plant to black swallowtails.  

Use it in the kitchen: Dill’s flavor is a cross between celery and fennel. Commonly used in the pickling process, it can also be used to season a variety of dishes like potatoes, bread, fish, and lamb. You can harvest both the seeds and leaves for cooking. 

6. Coriander  Coriandrum sativum 

Get two herbs for the price of one! Coriander are the seeds from a cilantro plant. Allow your cilantro plant to flower and you’ll soon have clusters of delicate white, pinkish or pale lavender flowers. This annual herb can reach a height of two feet. Plant in part shade as it’s delicate leaves can be scorched by direct sunlight.  

Attracts: Small to medium-sized butterflies like sulphurs, metalmarks, blues and hairstreaks. 

Use it in the kitchen: Fresh cilantro is often present in Mexican dishes, but pairs well with many recipes. Remove leaves and add to casseroles, sandwiches, and sauces. Coriander seeds are a great addition to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. Collect seeds for cooking or to plant more cilantro. 

These plants will make an irresistible herb garden, for you and the pollinators. Just be sure to plant enough; three or more of each plant is recommended. Be careful not to over harvest and don’t be alarmed when you find some midnight snacking has occurred. After all, that’s one of the reasons you planted these beauties. Your herbs will grow back (they’ve evolved to deal with bug predation) and you’ll soon be rewarded with wonderful butterflies and a healthier environment.  

Last, but certainly not least, for the health of pollinators and your family, avoid applying chemicals to your herbs. In fact, forgo pesticides and herbicides throughout your landscape; it’s one of the most important steps you can take to protect all those good bugs out there. Want to learn more about natural pest control? Check out this recent Environmental Services blog.  

If you’re looking for more ways to attract pollinators to your garden, check out the Plant for Pollinators website or contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department – email below. 


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Woodlands Landscaping Solutions Online Learning – Day 4

Pollinator and Wildlife Gardens

Imagine bushes abuzz with bees, resplendent butterflies flashing about, and birdsong permeating the air – all right in your very own yard. By adding a few key elements to your garden or landscape, you can  turn your landscape into a flourishing habitat and start witnessing sights fit for National Geographic! 

Birds, Bees and Butterflies: Gardening for Wildlife 

Let Water University help you build your backyard habitat. This comprehensive presentation is packed with tips for inviting wildlife. Discover which native plants entice specific pollinating insects and birds  and how to round out your habitat with food and shelter sources. 


Certified Wildlife Habitats 

For a quick guide to the key building blocks of a successful Wildlife Habitat, check out National Wildlife Federation’s short 7 part video series.  Start with the video below. Allow auto play to queue up each  subsequent video and enjoy the entire series. Great to watch with the whole family.  Have you installed all the components of a successful wildlife habitat? Register your Certified Wildlife Habitat here


How to Plant a Pollinator Garden 

Are you limited on space or not up for a whole backyard project? Here is a simple how-to video for creating a pollinator garden in a small sunny spot by Roger Cook of This Old House. Learn how to determine the proper location, prep soil, choose plants and add biodiversity through the addition of a water feature. Please note some plants suggested are localized and not native varieties.


Butterfly Puddle 

Pollinating is important and thirsty work! Create a small oasis for butterflies and bees to sip from using tips in this video by Walter Reeves. 


Get to know your new neighbors with these wildlife guides: 


Register your pollinator garden with The Woodlands Township.  Want to know how your garden can earn cash with the newest village challenge? Read more here.

Join us tomorrow for the final day of online programming as we explore How To Create a Healthy and Beautiful Lawn. 

Questions or Comments?  Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov