Books: Beautiful pollinators


I thought I knew something about our continent’s native pollinators, those hard-working butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, hummingbirds and bats that visit flowers for the food they offer, and in the doing, carry pollen from flower to flower, fertilizing the flowers so they can reproduce. (That’s a white-lined sphinx moth in the photo above, pollinating my daffodils.)

Then I was assigned to write an article on native bees and was staggered to learn how many kinds there are–4,000 species of native bees in North America alone, from tiny Perdita bees not much bigger than the period in this sentence, to metal-flake green sweat bees and big, furry bumblebees. They’re all around us, living in every conceivable habitat where flowering plants live, from the hottest deserts to the highest mountaintops, even on balcony gardens of city apartments 50 stories above the street!


They’re inoffensive creatures, generally easy to get along with. (They’re too busy feeding and pollinating to be bothered with you.) They’re easy to nurture too: provide the flowering plants and nesting habitat they like, and avoid pesticides, and they’ll reward you generously. Attracting native bumblebees–like the one in the photo above–to our kitchen garden helped quadruple the tomato yield, for instance.

I wanted to learn about the fluttering, whirring, and hovering pollinators I began to notice in my garden. Hence my delight to find The Xerces Society Guide: Attracting Native Pollinators.


This appealing volume is a whole course on native pollinators, from what makes these these diverse and fascinating lives so crucial to our lives and landscapes, to simple ways to nurture them in your garden, farm, neighborhood, golf course, or wild habitat,  generous sections on identifying them, and an encyclopedia describing plants for pollinators (with quick lists for different parts of the country).

Atrracting Native Pollinators is full of facts about pollinators: For instance, did you know that 75 percent of Earth’s plants depend on a pollinator to set seed or fruit (that is, for their kind to survive)? Or that one in three mouthfuls of food you eat or drink requires a pollinator for part of its life cycle?

Imagine life without strawberries, melons, or apples, with no lettuce or squashes, no blueberries or oranges, no beef or dairy products (alfalfa, which most cattle are fed at some point in their lives, requires pollinators). Imagine life with no flowers at all…

It turns out that providing pollinator habitat isn’t hard, and can add beauty to your surroundings, in addition to making the planet healthier.

Best of all, Attracting Native Pollinators is a lovely book. It’s packed with gorgeous color photos in the tradition of artistic garden books, and the enticing layout encourages browsing. It’s a thick book, but it’s so inviting it never seems intimidating. Full of information and inspiration, this is a book to return to, again and again.


A personal note: Richard had a bad brain day on Monday, so we didn’t venture as far as Hobo Hot Springs for our anniversary. We did make a quick trip to The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch for a meeting of the team involved in the interpretive garden project there. (Thanks to landscape architect Erin Dickerson of Steamboat Springs, Betsy Blakeslee, facitilies manager at Carpenter Ranch, and volunteer extraordinaire Vicky Barney, as well as to Colorado Art Ranch and Terra Foundation for sponsoring our working residency.) It’s exciting to see the design take shape on this piece of storied ground!

And today we headed south to Joyful Journey Hot Springs in the San Luis Valley, for our delayed soak. We went straight to the hottest pool with its view of the serrated wall of peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range edging the valley, and emerged later limp and mellow.


The grace note was the common nighthawks roosting in the trees right over the entrance path, seeming oblivious of passers-by. These birds are camouflaged so beautifully that they look like dead branch stubs on their daytime snoozing. In the evening, they’ll stretch their long, pointed wings and take off, wide mouths agape, to fly though the air and scoop up insects, including mosquitoes, by the hundreds. Good neighbors indeed.


Tonight, as I finished this blog post, a shower so brief it didn’t even wet the sidewalk passed by, cooling the air and splitting the light of the setting sun into this gorgeous rainbow right over town. Life may not be easy, but it surely brings some fine moments…