Pest or Pollinator?

Lowly Woodland Weeds

Why would anyone want to plant these lowly woodland weeds on purpose?

In the native plant world that we here at New Moon are a part of, we sometimes engage in conversations with folks wondering what is so great about native plants? Why would a person, when there is a global selection of horticultural wonders available at any number of locations, choose to plant the same old weeds they can find in the field at the park or growing in the long forgotten forest? So we are finding ourselves answering the question  – are these plants weeds or wildflowers?

And you all know that the definition of a weed is a plant you do not want growing where it is growing, right? So the answer is that any plant could be a weed, even the most stunning foreign botanical oddity. And even the wondrous white oak with all of its Lepidoptera supporting qualities  can be a weed if growing too close to a building or in the middle of the vegetable garden.

Quercus alba

Stately white oak – not the best plant for a vegetable garden

So it is all about perspective. To some the snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) may be a nuisance and to others it is the one fall blooming perennial the deer will not eat and for that they are grateful. (In fact so many people think this is a weed that we can’t sell this native, deer resistant fall-blooming wild flower.)

Ageratina altissima (Snakeroot)

For some this is a weed. For others it is the only native, deer-resistant, fall blooming wildflower in their woods.

And so enter the lowly mosquito. In the news for months now for carrying the Zika virus to the United States and in the news for generations for all of the diseases and harm it has plagued the world with. Rarely, if ever, does the mosquito make the news for another characteristic it has.

Did you know that mosquitos are pollinators? According to the USDA Forest Service there is a mosquito species (Aedes communis) essential for the pollination of our northern native orchids.  Check out this account from the Pollinator Partnership describing the Blunt-leaved orchids’ association with mosquitos. Of course there is research out there showing that the elimination of all mosquitos from the face of the earth would have little to know ecological impact. Even this  report however, notes there are thousands of plant species reliant on mosquitos for pollination. Adult mosquitos feed on nectar for energy. According to this report because they are not a significant pollinator of agricultural commodity crops they are unimportant as pollinators – but what about our weeds…um…wildflowers? What plants would we lose if we lost the tiny mosquito that pollinates it and what ripple effect would the world feel eventually from that if any? Scientists suspect there is one orchid that has evolved with mosquitos to the point of giving off an odor that smells like body odor in order to attract the pollinating mosquito!  And did you know there is a national mosquito day?  Sure enough! Celebrate the mosquito every July 23 and gain a new perspective on this pest…um… pollinator.

Mosquito and Fly on Sweet Coneflower

Mosquito feasting on Rudbeckia subtomentosa (Sweet Coneflower) flowers.

So, weed or wildflower? Pest or Pollinator? It is all about your perspective. The important thing is to be fully aware before you jump to judgement.


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