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Helping Pollinators Thrive at the Laurels Preserve

Helping Pollinators Thrive at the Laurels Preserve

Caterpillar on a pollinator-friendly plant
June 19, 2019

Pollinators play a crucial role in every ecosystem and ensure the reproduction of many flowering plants. In recent years, scientists have observed a worldwide decline in pollinators, including native bee species—most notably in honeybees—and some butterfly and moth species. It is believed that the decline has been caused principally by habitat loss and more intensive use of pesticides on crops. In order to thrive, it is important that pollinators find nectar from plants available to them throughout the growing season.

Chase Yeomans, an Eagle Scout candidate with Troop 22 of Unionville, PA, planting in the Laurels Preserve
Chase Yeomans, an Eagle Scout candidate with Troop 22 of Unionville, PA, and his team of volunteers planting the new pollinator habitat at the Laurels Preserve
At the Brandywine Conservancy’s Laurels Preserve, more than 358 species of flowering plants exist, many of which are native to the southeastern Pennsylvania region. However, there are some areas of the Preserve that are dominated by non-native plant species of very little value to pollinators. Helping to address this problem, Chase Yeomans, an Eagle Scout candidate with Troop 22 of Unionville, PA, recently helped create 1,500 square feet of new pollinator-friendly habitat at the Laurels Preserve. Working together with Laurels Preserve Manager, Grant Folin, Chase selected plants, designed the plantings and worked with 25 volunteers to install a pollinator habitat enhancement of 1,000 plants in the Preserve.  

The 1,000 flowering perennial plants were comprised of 10 species which are native to the southeastern Pennsylvania region, including swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); white turtlehead (Chelone glabra); boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum); Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum); false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides); blue flag iris (Iris versicolor); cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis); beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis); mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum); and blue vervain (Verbena hastata).

These plants will provide nectar for pollinators from mid-April through October and will also act as habitat for insect larvae—some of which can only feed on specific plants. Two examples of this characteristic among the plants are: swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which feeds the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly, and white turtlehead (Chelone glabra), which feeds the caterpillar of the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly. The flowers of the plants selected for this planting project will also provide a visual treat for visitors to the Laurels Preserve. The colors of the blooms range from white and pink to purple and the brightest red imaginable.

Monarch butterfly on plant
Help Pollinators in Your Backyard:

Pollinator habitat may be supported even on the smallest patch of ground, or even with plants in pots.  Monarch butterfly caterpillars have been seen feeding on milkweed plants even in the harshest of urban environments. Planting native flowering plants in the garden or in pots is a great first step. This may be taken further by dedicating an area of the garden to wild native plants—many of which home gardeners consider weeds due to their appearance and somewhat aggressive nature. Some of these plants include: horse weed (Conyza canadensis); fire weed (Erechtites hieracifolia); goldenrods (Solidago spp.); milkweeds (Asclepias spp.); “Little white asters” (various genera); jewelweed (Impatiens capensis & I. pallida) and others. 

Remember: pollinators need plants to host their larvae in addition to needing the nectar from flowers.  Take time to observe what plants grow in the weedy areas and if pollinators visit them or if caterpillars eat them. Learn the names of the plants and whether they are native or invasive. Of course, do not hesitate to weed out the invasive plant species which support very little insect life. Here are some spefiics about the ways you can support pollinators in your own garden including information about choosing plants and additional websites to check for more information. Happy planting!