What Pollinator Would Be Good for a Botanical Garden?
Ask the Expert
Andrea writes: We are looking for a pollinator for a huge indoor botanical garden. We will need to find a pollinator that will be able to pollinate plants 365 days per year and will not be dangerous for the tourists.
Rusty Burlew replies: The only pollinator I know of that could work inside a botanical garden every day throughout the year and not intimidate the tourists would be a human.
Generally, a botanical garden has a large diversity of plants, often from various parts of the world. In nature, those plants share an environment with their natural pollinators, ones they evolved with over thousands of years. Each species of plant has its own unique set of pollinators that may include bees, flies, moths, beetles, bats, birds, butterflies, moths, and wasps. No one pollinator can pollinate all plants.
If your botanical garden has 100 types of flowering plants from around the world, you would need nearly that many unique pollinators because each one has a special relationship with the plant it depends on. Pollinators have no interest in plants that differ from the ones they visit in nature. Their relationships are specific. For example, a small fly called a midge, pollinates chocolate, a special wasp pollinates figs, and a certain type of bee pollinates the vanilla orchid.
The bee that pollinates the vanilla orchid occurs naturally in Mexico. But when vanilla orchids were imported into Madagascar, the local growers could find no bee that could do the pollinating. To this day, all Madagascar vanilla is pollinated by hand.
Most pollinating insects are only active when their host plants are in bloom, so the time they pollinate in a year usually spans days or weeks, not months. A honey bee colony is an exception that can pollinate for many months, but honey bees do not pollinate everything, they do not do well in captivity, and they can be intimidating to the public. Plus, they can cause adverse reactions in some individuals, a potential source of litigation.
To solve your problem, you must first decide the purpose of the botanical garden. If you simply want the patrons to experience plants from distant places, then perhaps you don’t need any pollinators. The plants will grow and flower without them. If, however, you are trying to produce seeds or fruit from your plants, then you would need pollinators. If you decide to produce seeds or fruit on a limited scale, then hand-pollinating is probably your best option.