Pollinator gardens can be effective educational tools

Food systems and ecology are tied together and can be demonstrated in pollinator gardens.

pollinator gardens   Students ready to play the “Pollination Game’” at A. L.
   Holmes Academy in Detroit, 6/2012.

Pollinators are important to our food system. To revisit some basic plant science, pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male structure of a flower to the female structure of a different flower of the same species. A flower must be pollinated in order for fertilization to occur, with fruit and seed production dependent upon fertilization. Approximately 75 percent of all food crops grown in the United States depend on pollinator animals such as insects, reptiles, birds and some mammals. All of the tree fruit and small fruit (except grapes) grown in Michigan are dependent on animal pollinators.

Pollinator gardens support and maintain pollinators by supplying food in the form of pollen and nectar that will ensure that these important animals stay in the area to keep pollinating our crops for continued fruit and vegetable production. Michigan native plants are often the best choice for a majority of the plants in the pollinator garden as many of them support our native bees and wild pollinators.

Pollinator gardens are one of the most flexible, cost-effective and timeless educational tools available. 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.

Pollination gardens can introduce the basics of gardening and food systems to both novice teachers and students. These types of gardens can be almost any size and can use a wide variety of plants including flowers, shrubs and trees. Additionally, pollinator gardens are easier to establish and maintain than vegetable gardens, and can be supportive of future vegetable or butterfly gardens. Best of all, pollinator gardens benefit the ecosystem.

Michigan State University Extension staff has established pollinator gardens at schools where garden outreach programs are delivered. These gardens have provided experiential learning at all levels. Students at A. L. Holmes Academy on the east side of Detroit have received the message loud and clear – when staff say “No bugs,” the students respond, “No chocolate!” because they have learned that the plant we make chocolate from is insect pollinated!