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Perfume For Pollinators
June 18, 2018

Summer officially starts this week (June 21).

The girls are too spoiled.

Pictured below are the pups (on the couch), sporting a fresh cut.

Many of you with fur kids understand.

Fathers Day, a very steamy, yet blessed day for me.

They are always a blessing, however.

Please keep an eye on your elderly family, neighbors and friends during the days of excessive heat.

Thankfully, we have been blessed with some timely rains this spring.

Water and heat, makes the gardens grow.

I've harvested radishes, green onions, leaf lettuce, and various herbs like dill, cilantro, and basil.

This past Friday were the first cucumbers and Saturday, the first summer squash.

The picture of the cucumber on vine was picked Sunday.

In all fairness, I did start the cukes and squash indoors a couple weeks before the last frost date.

Bird activity continues.

Have I told you, 'I Love Birds'.

Gardens full of flowers and bugs, attract birds.

Now, I apologize in advance for another lengthy letter.

I try to provide more than just a tease to you.

You deserve more.

Magazines are full of them.

Scratch 'n' sniff, cologne and perfume strips, and other forms of olfactory advertising.

Scents to attract, or sooth the savage beast.

Today's letter, Perfume For Pollinators.


Perfume for Pollinators:

Are you Using Fragrant Plants to Lure Insects and Other Critters Into the Garden?

You can you know.

Without the Scratch-n-sniff gimmicks.

The truth is, plants have been doing this since the beginning of time.

Plants advertise with fragrance in various ways.

Plants perfume their blooms to seduce the insects, bats, and other critters they need to pollinate their flowers.

Floral fragrance is a kind of olfactory come-on, that proclaims to a potential pollinator, "Come hither, honey, 'cause there's scrumptious pollen and sweet nectar hidden inside these pretty petals."

In addition to a full belly, the pollinator leaves with pollen attached to its body in a bundle or dusted on its fur.

When the pollinator lands on another flower while looking for its next meal, cross-fertilization can occur.

Scientists believe that one reason plants are in big trouble around the globe is because their pollinators are disappearing.

A major factor in their decline is loss of habitat to farms and urban development.

Without their specific pollinators, the flowers of many species don't get fertilized.

(Yes, there are many plant specific pollinators.)

Squash Bees For Example,

Focus on plants in the squash/pumpkin family.

(Squash bee pictured.)

If they don't get fertilized, they don't set seed and can't reproduce.

In a pinch, some plants can pollinate themselves, but this often causes inbreeding and other genetic problems that ultimately threaten the species survival.

By creating gardens that feature a variety of fragrant flowers to attract a diversity of pollinators, we gardeners can help compensate for the loss of habitat and lend plants, and their partners a helping hand.

As a bonus, we get whiffs of the heady scents ourselves.

Signature Scents:

Plants employ not just scent, but also visual cues like flower color to facilitate reproduction.

For example, Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red and many red flowers don't have a strong smell that would attract bees.

(Red Salvia in mass.)

Beetles and certain flies were made to be attracted by certain smells.

For example, there are several plants/flowers that smell like rotting flesh, just to attract these types of pollinators.

Skunk Cabbage didn't get its name for smelling sweet.

Certain insects for certain smells.

This minimizes the competition and battles.

Creation is pretty smart this way.

Although many insects are near sighted and some may be color blind (though tests show insects see in ultraviolet), they have a great sense of smell.

So, it's no big surprise that the magnolias, Jasmine, and other flowers that pack powerful perfumes attract a bulk of the pollinators.

Floral fragrance is far from an antiquated trait, however.

In fact, although flowers can be identical in color and shape, no two floral fragrances are alike.

Every plant has its own signature scent, a complex mixture of volatile organic compounds that easily turn to gases and waft through the air.

Some 1,700 compounds have been identified in flower fragrances so far, according to Purdue University research that studied floral scents.

An orchid can produce a hundred different volatile compounds, while a snapdragon produces seven to ten.

Purdue's researchers recently isolated the gene for one of these compounds, methyl benzoate.

Some 30 to 40 commercially important plants—including snapdragons, flowering tobaccos, and petunias—use this same fragrance-generation system.

Here is a sad fact:

Intensive breeding for bigger, more colorful, and longer-lasting blooms during the past few decades evidently has deactivated the gene.

Which is why so many modern varieties are disappointing in the scent department.

A plant that is pouring so much energy into producing flashier-looking flowers, is in essence too pooped to make perfume.

To date, little is known about how pollinators respond to the individual compounds found in flower scents.

But it is clear that they are capable of distinguishing among complex scent mixtures and therefore among plant species—their schnozzolas steer them to the ones that provide the most delectable nectar or pollen.

Since the beginning of time, creation has allowed for certain smells to attract certain insects and other pollinators.

That's right, a designed, symbiotic relationship between plant and pollinator.

Breeders remove certain traits like smells and pollen for larger showier blooms, or plants that have other traits like tall, short, disease resistant, etc. and then add some other traits and now, some plants and pollinators are in trouble.

They don't know each other.

You could say that it's all in the proboscis of the beholder (or antennae, the olfactory organs of bees, beetles, and moths).

Pollinators are very picky about flower odors.

(Honeybee on Aster.)

Bees, for example, prefer the sweet scent of plants like snapdragons and sweet peas.

Beetles are partial to flowers with fruity and spicy scents, such as magnolias.

Moths, which are mostly nocturnal, are attracted to flowers such as jasmine, which advertise their presence under the cloak of darkness with strong, sweet perfumes.

Moths have a keen sense of smell and have even been known to pick up the scent of an enticing plant from 900 feet away.

Bats are also night flyers with good noses, but they favor blooms with musty aromas.

Most bats in the United States are insectivorous, but three flower-eating species migrate from Mexico to pollinate dozens of agaves and giant cacti in the desert southwest.

Lesser long-nosed bats, for example, take a predictable path in spring, following blooming cacti northward through the Sonoran Desert.


Most people don't think of flies as pollinators, but they play a critical role in the fertilization of some flowers.

Flies fancy blossoms that emit the essence of carrion or dung and look like lumps of rotting flesh.

Among their favorites are our native red trilliums, which early naturalists christened "Stinking Benjamins" because of their stench.

Birds and most butterflies are olfactory challenged, so the flowers that depend on them for pollination don't waste time and energy on smelling beautiful.

Within the various groups of flower fertilizers there are generalists, which have cosmopolitan floral tastes, and specialists, which have a monogamous relationship with the blossoms they visit.

Among the ultimate pollinator specialists are the moths that fertilize yuccas, which typically send up stout stalks of white flowers.

Yuccas, including about 30 species native to North America.

False Advertising:

Pollinators aren't always too bright about using fragrance to find the flowers that offer the best rewards, and some flowers exploit their gullibility by resorting to false advertising.

Consider jack-in-the-pulpit, skunk cabbage, and other aroids, whose tiny flowers, massed together along a fleshy pole partially surrounded by a leaf, smell of stinking fish and feces.

Flies arrive with great expectations of finding some rotting tissue in which to lay their eggs.

They get trapped inside a chamber at the base of the leaf that protects the fertile flowers and remain incarcerated until the flowering pole wilts.

In the process of trying to escape, they pollinate the plant.

False or not, when it comes to advertising scent, timing is everything.

Snapdragons release four times more scent during the day, when their bee pollinators are busy foraging, than at night.

By contrast, Nicotianas are most fragrant after dusk, when their moth pollinators are out and about.

Different flowers flaunt their fragrance at different times.

What's more, flowers show off their perfumes only when they are good and ready for fertilization.

Newly opened blossoms don't produce as much scent as mature ones do, and fertilized flowers not only make less fragrance but also lower-quality perfume.

It's useful to keep these things in mind when using fragrance in the garden to help nurture plants and their pollinators.

(Phlox with Hummingbird Moth in my yard.)

Invite a variety of pollinators into your garden by offering a large and diverse mix of fragrant species, both day and night bloomers.

Plant favored species in drifts of at least three to five to attract pollinators and make it worth their while to visit.

Drifts and beds of multiples also help attract butterflies (near sighted), and hummingbirds as well.

Choose old-fashioned varieties and native flowers whenever possible, because breeding has caused some modern-day blooms to lose their fragrance, and even those that still have scent may lack the nectar that pollinators need to thrive.

Plant a mix of flowers that cater to both generalist and specialist pollinators, so all can partake of the feast.

Design your garden so that there is a continuous succession of plants in bloom to provide nonstop food sources for hungry pollinators.

Avoid using pesticides, even non-chemical ones such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which can decimate pollinator populations.

Don't forget this.......................

Insects and pollinators attract a wide variety of songbirds to your yard as well.

Well, Its time to fly for now.

Before I go, here this week's positive thought.

God Bless.

"Being defeated is often only a temporary condition.

Giving up is what makes it permanent".

Marilyn vos Savant

God's answer, and help for you.

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to
stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand".

Ephesians 6:13

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors,

We borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb.

A Blessed week to you .

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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