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Plant Diversity & The Impact On Pollinators

Meet Jacob Burgess, a Mustard Seed Market team member who is also an undergraduate at App State studying environmental biology and researching entomology! Jacob focuses on Coleoptera (beetles) as well as has extensive knowledge of pollinators and their impact on the environment. In honor of #pollinatorweek we had the opportunity to sit down with Jacob and learn about the garden's plant diversity and how this impacts the beneficial insects in your space.

Are there certain plants that attract pollinators?

Each plant will attract specific pollinators as well as a wide variety of pollinators. Some pollinators, such as everyday bees, will go from plant to plant, whereas other pollinators are particular as to which plants they go to.

It's also important to remember that pollinators need not only plants for food but also for housing and raising their young so the next generation can pollinate your garden.

Are there specific bugs/insects you want to attract to your garden?

As far as insects are concerned, you want to attract as many types and species as possible, mainly because they all have their own roles within the ecosystem. Pollinators such as bees, flies, wasps, and beetles interact with each other to pollinate but also eat the insects we consider harmful, such as aphids. For example, there are specific wasps that colonize certain caterpillars you don't necessarily want living in your garden, for example, the tomato hornworm caterpillar being parasitized by a wasp.

It's also important to keep in mind that the bad bugs you may not necessarily want will attract the pollinators you need for your garden.

Do you think insecticides and sprays are beneficial or do more damage than good?

When it comes to invasive species of insects, these species can definitely impact your garden negatively without having any beneficial outcome. For example, with Japanese Beetles, there is no real control other than the birds that can remove those, and having those beetles in your garden can negatively impact your plants' health. But I would say going through means of control that don't involve harmful pesticides is the best possible method because you don't want to kill the beneficial insects along with the harmful ones. So before you spray your garden, try using a Japanese beetle trap. Even though you may still have some leftover, as long as you don't have such a high population that it affects the quality of your plants, then they are easier to control without bringing in chemicals. You must be interactive in your garden. The bottom line is to consider what exactly is in the mixture you will spray if you have to.

Are there certain bugs/insects better than others as far as pollinating goes?

When it comes to pollinating, bees are the best, mainly because their specific goal is to pollinate. Five hundred species of bees are native to North Carolina, and they go from flower to flower pollinating. It's important to remember that most bees don't look like the common honey bee or bumble bee, but even though they look way different, every single one of these species is very important. Wasps and ants also have a specific job when it comes to pollinating.

Flies are significant, and they pollinate a lot of stuff in the High Country. Anything that is 'stinky' flies trend to pollinate those. In short, bees aren't the only pollinator we need to protect and save, but they play a considerable role in the ecosystem.

Butterflies are also essential. During metamorphosis, they consume plants in their larva stage, but they also pollinate in their adult stage, so it's important to have plants that can support both of these stages of life for them. For example, planting milkweeds that can house and allow monarch butterflies to grow into full-grown adults. Once they reach maturity, they can pollinate plants and migrate to create this cycle that goes on over time, benefiting our ecosystem. Walking outside and seeing a Monarch in your garden is also notable, especially if someone has kids. It's a good sign to see these butterflies in your garden, and it means you are creating a healthy habitat for your family to enjoy, yourself to enjoy, and nature to thrive.

Tell us about the importance of plant diversity when making a pollinator garden.

I think it's imperative to remember that you don't want to plant just flowers in a pollinator garden. Plant some grasses, shrubbery, or trees. By producing a wider variety of plant species, you can benefit your garden more than just a big row of flowers.

Beetles are your main area of study, are these considered pollinators?

Yes, some beetles are pollinators, such as the flower beetles. Some help manage pests in the garden as well as eat the snails and slugs. The ground beetles you see if you pickup a rock or log are the beetles that go on to eat the slugs that can affect the plants in your garden. They are great for maintenance.

Do you have plants that are your favorite for attracting pollinators?

Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are some of my favorites because they attract my favorite beetle, which is the Elderberry Boring Beetle which has a three-year lifecycle. Echinacea purpurea, the native coneflower, as well as Mountain Mint and Liatris spicata, are a few others.

What made you want to get into this field of study?

I've always loved nature, and I've always had a curious mind. There's something special about being the person that can answer weird questions. For me, having the knowledge to walk down a stream and point out a number of things most people would never notice makes me feel good and keeps my mind invigorated.

What are your ultimate goals?

I want to focus on science communication and put science in terms the public can understand, appreciate, and transcribe the jargon from the science world to both a 5-year-old and a 45-year-old. I feel like working at the Mustard Seed has helped me in my journey towards my end goal. I feel like customers come in and love hearing my weird facts. Sometimes when walking around with a customer, my ADHD brain stops and says, 'Wow! Did you know that this beetle...' and that makes it an exciting shopping experience for both the customer and me.

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