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Wildflower Power: Promoting Pollinator Week

What you may not know about me is that I am a lover of wildflowers.

Seeing, smelling, identifying and just being amid native wildflowers are on my list of my favorite outdoor pursuits in Nebraska’s landscape.

A selfie pic in USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres of my brother Steve Wagner’s farm in southeast Nebraska planted with a wildflower/grassland habitat mix. Gray-Headed Coneflowers are visible to the right. Selfie pic (photo) by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

And you know what? Those wildflowers are more important than ever! No, scratch that. Indirectly, those native wildflowers are vital to all life on our planet Earth!

Pollinator habitat in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres on my brother’s farm in southeast Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Allow me to explain.

For one out of every three bites of food you eat, you need to thank a bee, butterfly, beetle, ant, wasp, bat, bird or other animal transferring pollen from one native wildflower to another!

Pollinating fly on Black-Eyed Susan on an acreage in western Douglas County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner.

In fact, these animals on the hunt for nectar, pollen or other floral rewards provide pollination services critical to fruit, nut and seed production, and moreover, for nearly three-quarters of the staple crop plants that feed human kind and for more than 75% of all flowering plants in the world!

Bee on Gray-Headed Coneflower in CRP acres on my brother’s farm in southeast Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Pollinators and their habitat contribute substantially to the U.S. economy and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets. In the U.S., pollination produces almost $20 billion worth of products annually.

Insects utilizing Maximilian Sunflowers in rural Cass County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Not only is pollinator habitat good for the bees, butterflies, bats, beetles and even small mammals but pollinator habitat is also excellent brood rearing habitat for pheasants, quail and grassland songbirds. Pollinator habitat – native flowering plants – attract soft-bodied insects that pheasant chicks, and other ground-nesting chicks, rely on for survival during the first 6-8 weeks of life.

Wild Bergamot in CRP acres on my brother’s farm in southeast Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Monica Macoubrie, Wildlife Outdoor Education Specialist at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said, “Pollinators are essential not only for plants, but are keystone species that help many other types of animals. If they disappear, we will lose a lot of the other animals that we enjoy seeing.”

Yes, there is a problem, a major problem. There continues to be a reduction in abundance of insect and other animal pollinators in many ecosystems worldwide due to habitat loss and the floral diversity of plants, as well as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, pests, diseases, invasive species and climate change among other issues.

Monarch butterfly populations have decreased dramatically in the last 20 years, while many commercial honeybee keepers are experiencing noticeable losses annually.

With National Pollinator Week coming up on the calendar from June 22-28, it is time once again to draw attention to the cycle and plight of these pollinators, and the diverse habitat they need to survive with native wildflowers having a huge impact. In honor of the role pollinators play in Nebraska’s economy and ecosystems, Gov. Pete Ricketts has proclaimed June 22-28, 2020, Nebraska Pollinator Week.

It is also a good time to ask each of ourselves this question: What have I personally done to help the pollinator problem, if anything?

Black-Eyed Susans planted in grassland cover near old barn on an acreage in western Douglas County, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission..

I am proud to say that I have done my part to develop a beautiful array of beneficial native wildflowers in the grassland acres on my brother’s southeast Nebraska farm that I help him manage. I have also assisted pollinators in my backyard with targeted wildflower plantings.

Monarch Butterfly on pollinator habitat – a White Butterfly Plant variety in a garden setting in your blogger’s backyard in Omaha, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Macoubrie pointed out that anyone can help pollinators. “Whether you live in a house, a rural area, or even an apartment, there is something that you can do for pollinators.”

“As a Nebraskan, you can join the Nebraska Pollinator Week 2020 Challenge, head outside, look for pollinators, and be a part of a national citizen science program,” Macoubrie added.

To enter the challenge, visit nebraskapollinatorweek.org and complete the commitment form. Participants will be sent a package of pollinator resources. Participants then should head outside to look for pollinators and enter at least five species they find on iNaturalist, a web-based citizen science program.

In addition, the Nebraska Pollinator Week website also contains free resources, tutorials, lesson plans, and information about Nebraska pollinators. Discover more at nebraskapollinatorweek.org.

Here are some other ways you can help the plight of the pollinators when it comes to native flower habitat:

  • Establish a diversity of plants native to your region.
  • Check out incentives for planting wildflower seed mixes in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or other habitat-related program.
  • Avoid using harmful pesticides, herbicides and insecticides.
  • Provide connected habitat of trees, shrubs, and perennials on your farm, ranch, and acreage or in your lawn or lot.
  • If you plant non-native plants, make certain they are not invasive. Remember that pollinators do not always use cultivars. For example, flowers that have many more petals than normal might not be accessible by the pollinators that would have visited the original native species. Likewise, nectar and pollen in cultivars might be altered enough to be no longer attractive to pollinators.
  • Have a water source that allows small pollinators to drink safely near plantings of native flowers.
  • Plan for blooms throughout the seasons. For example, Redbuds are early bloomers, while Goldenrods Gayfeathers and others bloom right up into November. Of course, many wildflowers and perennials bloom right through spring and summer!
  • Leave some bare patches of earth for digger bees, and set out bee boxes — help keep the cycle of pollinators going!
  • If you can, provide moist dirt areas by flower patches to invite butterfly puddling.
  • Keep a little untidiness in flowerbeds or natural areas — this provides shelter for pollinators!
  • Plant caterpillar host plants like the Milkweed. Monarch butterflies cannot survive without Milkweed; their caterpillars only eat Milkweed plants. Milkweeds are also a host plant for other specialized insects, and a nectar source for many pollinators.
A monarch caterpillar on the leaf of a Common Milkweed plant in one of my brother’s CRP fields in southeast Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

For more information about pollinators, visit the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission website at www.OutdoorNebraska.gov

The Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), a native wildflower, in bloom on a Cass County, NE farm. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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