Put down those pesticides. Stop sweeping away the beetles. And don't worry about that bat in the attic. Be grateful for it.
So says the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, the United States Botanic Garden and their collaborative exhibit, "The Great Pollinator Partnership." With 12 small gardens, each showcasing a different type of pollinating insect or animal, the exhibit is designed to highlight the importance of the creatures who haplessly spread pollen from plant to plant, a process vital to plant reproduction and $40 billion in U.S. agricultural products.
Or, as one placard at the outdoor exhibit reads, "Why your future, the global economy, and the survival of fine dining depends on pollinators."
The exhibit spans the outside of the Botanic Garden, at the foot of the Capitol, with clusters of potted plants that attract particular pollinators and placards explaining their contributions to the ecosystem. It was prompted in part by what NAPPC fears is a disappearance of pollinating species in recent years, said Kimberly Winter, NAPPC's coordinator, who hopes the displays will catch the attention of individual gardeners and policymakers.
To do so, the Botanic Garden is hosting several events at the exhibit next month, including a "Pollination Celebration" on Sept. 18, at which children can learn the waggle dance that bees use to communicate and adults can get tips for making sanctuaries for non-stinging bees in their yards.
If pollination dredges up memories of high school science lessons on bees and flowers, think again, say Winter and Dayna Lane, who organized the exhibit.
Bees do pollinate, but so do bats, butterflies, moths, lemurs, the wind and the most prolific pollinators, beetles.
And the sometimes annoying critters are part of a plant mating process responsible for, among other things, attractive flowers, pest control and crops that produce goods ranging from chocolate and coffee to latex and tequila, Winter said.
NAPPC, a collection of more than 80 scientists, government agencies and environmental organizations, has been concerned about noticeable declines in pollinating species, particularly bees, Winter said, but it does not have the funding for an overarching study to determine how threatened they are.
Placards at some gardens suggest strategies for helping pollinators, from expanding butterfly gardens to attract flies and bees, to implementing economic growth strategies and border patrol policies that control what plants enter the country.
Eighty percent of the world's food plant species depend on pollination, according to the exhibit, which emphasizes the fact frequently.
Other gardens are for social bees, solitary bees, moths and bats, who, Winter said, eat as many as 10,000 mosquitoes a night. The ones in the United States aren't harmful, Winter said, and can be lured to roost by providing shelter or "bat boxes."
"We shrink at the thought of them, but they are very important for pest control," Lane said.
The "unusual pollinator" garden demonstrates the importance of honey possums and bland white ruffed lemurs, who pollinate trees in Australia and Madagascar.
Inside the Botanic Garden, a photography exhibit offers evidence of pollination in action. There's a close-up shot of a bat, its face covered in pollen as it slurps nectar from a banana flower. Bats are good pollinators, Winter explained, because they usually get pollen all over their bodies while eating and inadvertently spread it when they go elsewhere.
Another photograph shows a researcher in Montana who is experimenting with bees to defuse land mines. By training bees to associate the scents of plants they typically feed on with the smell of land mines, researchers hope the bees will flock to land mines, making it easier for humans to find them.
In case photos of cute bats and factoids about foods dependent on pollination are not enough to spur a pollinator-protection movement, Winter and Lane are hosting tours for congressional staff members and employees from other government agencies.
Steve Eichenauer, a Senate staff member, took the tour last week, hoping to gain insight on environmental policy. Afterward, he said he understood the importance of keeping a balance between development and pollination needs.
"From a political standpoint, the most important thing is what we can do to manage growth and development so we can sustain pollinating species . . . at the same time we grow our economy," he said.
Eichenauer also had a personal motive for visiting. He has a butterfly garden in his back yard but is moving to a new home in Bethesda. For a new garden, he said, he might consider adding plants to attract some of the less admired insects.