The two obvious characteristics of hurricanes are very strong winds and heavy rainfall. Gardeners affected by direct hits are immediately concerned with the devastating impact upon their gardens. But there are other less obvious but important consequences – pollinator injury or displacement, and pollination degradation.
What happens to birds, butterflies and bees during hurricanes? Many take shelter. They hunker down near the ground, hide in shrubs and grasses, or cling to the leeward and undersides of trees and limbs. Not all survive unscathed.
Flying raindrops can do some damage to little creatures. Take butterflies, for example. In an article for Birds & Blooms – How Butterflies Seek Shelter From A Storm – Jill Staake observed, “When you’re a butterfly, a single raindrop is an awfully big deal. The average monarch butterfly weighs in at around 500 milligrams. The average raindrop weighs around 70 milligrams. Scientific American suggested that the impact of a raindrop on a butterfly would be similar to a human being hit with a water balloon with twice the mass of a bowling ball. Yikes!” Birds and bees would be similarly affected.
Just as wind-blown insects can be displaced into your garden, pollinators can be blown away from the area. Thoughtful gardeners can plan ahead and provide shelter from future storms, but know that things can get mighty quiet around the garden for awhile after a major storm passes.
Hurricanes can also affect the quality of pollination in a given area. In an issue of Arthropod-Plant Interactions, authors David A. Lawson and Sean A. Rands noted, “flowering plants will experience an increase in storm exposure. This increased exposure to intense rainfall during storms may leave many plants vulnerable to physical damage (Jackson 1978; Pacini 1984) and increase the number of diseased flowers in some species (Beatley 1974).” This makes the plants less attractive to pollinators.
Furthermore, Lawson and Rands observed, “Flowers which are exposed to rain also risk dilution of their nectar reserves.” Since, “nectar is the primary floral reward for the majority of pollinators...diluted nectars have been shown to discourage pollinators from visiting flowers.”
All this shows that the hurricanes can have long-term effects upon gardens the likes of which we’ve never much considered before. Considerate gardeners should try their best to restore their gardens as best they can in the wake of a storm.