Pollination important to the Crooked River Wetlands

Ron Halvorson reports for the Central Oregonian on the Crooked River Wetlands' pollinators.
By Ron Halvorson
Central Oregonian


It's been a great season at the Wetlands — lots of water and an abundance of both birds and visitors. Shorebirds are starting to return as they travel south and the ducks are in their eclipse (think brown) plumage. That's it for birds this time. Instead, we're going to highlight our other winged friends, the insect pollinators, and what's been done at the Wetlands to help them.

First some basics.

POLLINATION is the transfer of the male pollen grain from a flower's anther to the female stigma, which begins fertilization and produces seeds, fruits and the next generation of plants. Some plants can self-pollinate, some take advantage of the wind and some are water-pollinated. But most (some say up to 95%) require a vector to move the pollen from flower to flower, mostly bees and butterflies.

Why is this important? Pollinator.org says that one of every three bites of food we eat is there because of pollinators and, of course, plants are basic to our world in so many other ways. Since many pollinator populations are in decline, we need to do what we can to reverse this trend.

Enter the POLLINATOR GARDEN. This is basically an area of plants that produce showy flowers — attractive to pollinators — throughout the season. While native plants are often preferred, non-natives also have a role due to their abundant flowering and often longer flowering periods. There are three pollinator gardens at the Wetlands.

In the beginning was Kiosk G — the Native Pollinator kiosk — which is adjacent to pond 9 and a one-third-mile walk northeast of the pavilion. Soon after the Wetlands were opened for business in 2017, school children planted native plant seeds nearby, including milkweed, and later planted nursery-grown stock. Success was marginal, and this prompted some volunteers to think about making a milkweed garden just for the Monarch butterfly.

That's what they did, and the MONARCH GARDEN was created. Starting with a wooden coffin-like planter box in 2018 (which remains), milkweed and other plants thrived, so much so that volunteers expanded to the nearby grassy hill. Native plants were purchased, planted, lovingly cared for and now provide a great place for pollinators to do their thing. Walking paths have been added and many of the plants are labeled, making this a great place to visit.

Next came the NATIVE PLANT GARDEN between the kiosk and pond 9, which is where the school children did their work. Beginning as a joint venture with the Deschutes Land Trust, it has since been expanded and has also been a focal point for volunteer weeding and additional planting projects.

Last, but by no means least, is the BEE GARDEN, an Eagle Scout project designed to attract a large variety of bees. As such, it contains both native and non-native plants in recycled troughs — five to start (2020) and one more since. And because it's a bee garden, a "bee hotel" was added to each. Additional native shrubs were planted by volunteers this year.

Each garden also has at least one tree — mountain ash or chokecherry — that will flower for the pollinators and fruit for the birds.

Now, let's meet a few of our insect pollinator garden clients.

The Oregon Bee Atlas estimates at least 630 BEES in Oregon. Five types are common to our Bee Garden.

First is the Honeybee, which is what most people think of when they hear the word "bee." Not native to the U.S., it came from Europe and is the only bee that makes honey.

Next is the plump and generally furry Bumblebee. The queens are one of the first bees to arrive in the spring after crawling out of their winter home: an abandoned rodent hole, compost heap or pile of leaves.

Sweat bees, as the name implies, are attracted to human sweat and are regarded by some as pests. Nevertheless, they are important pollinators and often have metallic colored heads and bodies in green, blue and purple. They live underground.

Leaf cutter bees actually construct nests from circular pieces of leaves they cut from plants. Some are used like honey bees as commercial pollinators.

Finally, are our Mason bees, with the tasseled hats. Seriously, they are named for their habit of using mud or other "masonry" materials to construct homes in narrow, dark cavities, such as beetle tunnels or pithy stems. Look at the bee hotels and you'll see a number of the small tubes "plastered" shut, containing numerous cells separated by masonry partitions.

The honeybee and bumblebee are both colonial — they live in groups. The others are solitary bees.

Among BUTTERFLIES is the small (<2") white butterfly with dark spots known as a Cabbage White. This is one of our most common butterflies almost everywhere.

The dark butterfly with a red band on each wing is the Red Admiral. A little larger (<2.5") it can sometimes be enticed to land on your arm or shoulder.

The larger (>3") Mourning Cloak is a dark, chocolate-colored butterfly with iridescent spots and a yellow margin on each wing. These are often the first to emerge in the spring and the last to hibernate in the fall.

The California Tortoiseshell, a medium-sized (<2.5"), orange butterfly with dark accents, is the butterfly often seen in large groups that "puddle-sip" salts and minerals from damp soil. If you're not careful, you can confuse this with the larger (<3.5") Monarch. An observation of a Monarch is a newsworthy event. We are within its migration pathway and so we should expect to see one mid- to late-summer, especially in the Monarch Garden.

And let's not forget the Western Tiger Swallowtail, the large (<4") butterfly with vibrant yellow and black coloration on its triangular wings and the "swords" at the tips.

If you want to dig deeper into pollinator ID, find a good, basic field guide. Several apps are available for your phone and the website iNaturalist is a great place to start.

So get out to the Wetlands, visit the pollinator gardens, enjoy the flowers, bees and butterflies, and when you do, thank those who have made this possible. Where the Wetlands volunteers have spent countless hours planting, weeding and watering, the city crew has provided materials, equipment and labor to help get the job done. The East Cascades Audubon Society and Deschutes Land Trust have also contributed.