December 14, 2021
The front-page lead in my local newspaper today addressed “what I needed to know about native plants and pollinators in Arkansas.” It began stressing the advantage of growing native plants as they have already adapted to the local climate and soil. That means they tend to take less care and maintenance than non-native plants. Another advantage is native pollinators are already familiar with these species and are often specifically attracted to them. While bees are the most prolific pollinator, they are not the only ones. Pollen is spread by butterflies, moths, beetles, and birds. While some pollinators move indiscriminately from flower to flower, others will only feed on a specific species, and all will spread the pollen of a species in return for a meal. The interdependence of flora (plants) and fauna (animals) create the local ecosystem.
When I looked online, I found an ecosystem is a community of living and non-living things that work together, and includes both abiotic (soil, water, air) and biotic parts (flora, fauna). The major parts of an ecosystem are water, water temperature, plants, animals, air, light, and soil. A native ecosystem is all the naturally occurring living things, which includes plants and animals that are living within a certain area, but also includes how these plants and animals interact with each other and the world around them (climate). Healthy ecosystems have an energy source, usually the sun, and decomposers which break down dead plants and animals, returning vital nutrients to the soil. A healthy ecosystem consists of native plant and animal populations interacting in balance with each other and nonliving things (i.e., water, soil, and minerals). An unhealthy ecosystem is the result of an imbalance.
The news article went on to say native plants and grasses provide natural food and shelter for native fauna, which in turn helps with pollination and growth. Native areas do not need to be created in specific ways, but the key to success is diversity. Diversity can provide pollinators with a constant supply of nectar and pollen throughout the growing season. Different sizes, shapes, and structures of blooms occurring throughout the spring, summer, and fall will accommodate the specialist pollinator species. Leslie Cooper, a biologist preserving the monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in the state, said “Restoring Arkansas’ native plant communities is the single most important thing we can do for pollinator conservation in the natural State.” Native insects are required for pollination of 85% of Arkansas’ native plants.
Thoughts: When I was director of a conference center in Kansas, we restored 10 acres of our land to native Tall Grass Prairie but continued to mow the 50 acres around our activities. One year I started mowing later in the season and noticed the weeds I was cutting down were varieties of milk weed. Milkweed is labeled “noxious” in the wheat fields around me, but we were on the migration route of the Monarch Butterfly. I dug up over a dozen milk weed plants and transplanted them into an area where I had seen the butterflies congregate. When the native ecosystem is unhealthy, it breaks down until health can be restored. Invasive species (plant and animal) create an imbalance that results in habitat destruction. Transplanting a “pretty” species generally meets with disaster for native species. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.