Planting for Pollinators

New Gardens at Science Museum

planting a garden
15 gardeners planted a new pollinator garden at their local science museum. Photo by Virginia McDaniel, USFS.

On a misty November day, 15 gardeners gathered in front of the Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They brought their shovels and many pots of native plants.

“We installed about 30 different species,” says U.S. Forest Service forestry technician Virginia McDaniel. McDaniel designed the garden with Susan Hooks, Ouachita National Forest botanist.

They chose native plants for the garden.

In their larval stage, many native pollinators can eat one group of native plants and nothing else.

“For example, the Dianna fritillary – the Arkansas state butterfly – needs native violets,” says McDaniel. “Violets are the only plant these caterpillars can eat.” The butterfly has become rare in many parts of its range and is considered a sensitive species on the Ouachita NF.

McDaniel and her colleagues planted native violets and are hoping Dianna fritillaries will find them.

“Native plants can handle native caterpillars munching on their leaves,” says McDaniel. “Native herbivores can handle the nasty chemicals plants produce to deter them.”

Dianna fritillary
In their caterpillar stage, Dianna fritillary butterflies can only eat native violets. Photo by Thomas Barnes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The truce between native plants and insects evolved over millennia. Non-native landscape plants are not a part of this food web, and native insects do not recognize them as food.

“Non-native plants provide no ecological benefit to the food chain,” says McDaniel.

The new garden will provide food and shelter to native butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

Volunteers from the Arkansas Native Plant Society donated a number of plants including:

  • Missouri coneflower (Rudbeckia missouriensis)
  • Many-rayed aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum)
  • Rough goldenrod (Solidago radula)
  • White-leaf mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum albescens)
  • Cream wild indigo (Baptisia bracteata)
  • Southern blue flag (Iris virginica)

The rest were purchased with part of the $1,000 grant that ANPS awarded the museum. The grant will pay for plants, plant identification labels, and interpretive signage.

Forest Service employees, Garland County Master Gardeners, Diamond Lake Master Naturalists, and AR Native Plant Society volunteers helped clear the beds and plant the plants. They will return in the spring to plant flowers in two more beds.

Missouri coneflower
Two species of native bees can only eat nectar and pollen from Rudbeckias, which include the Missouri coneflower. Photo by Kenraiz.

Ultimately, the project will help sustain the health and diversity of Arkansas flora and fauna while educating the public.“Many pollinator species have declined,” says McDaniel. “But it doesn’t take much to create a refuge for them – use native flowering plants, avoid pesticides, and provide habitat.”

The project began as a conversation between McDaniel and Barry Horner, a Diamond Lake Master Naturalist.

“Museum visitors walk right past these beds,” says McDaniel. “Barry and I saw the potential for an education opportunity as well as ecosystem benefits. We wanted to show visitors the beauty and diversity of Arkansas flora.”

The winged visitors will also enjoy the new garden, and the museum staff plans to use the beds as teaching tools.

Read about gardening for pollinators.

For more information, email Virginia McDaniel at vmcdaniel@fs.fed.us.

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