Pollinator Fields in Their Glory

In general I do not recommend trying to improve on nature beyond the boundaries of the yard since the beauty of natural scenes is often incomparable. However creation of a Pollinator Field from a portion of hay fields or pastures or even yards can provide habitat for pollinators such as butterflies and bees, while also providing enjoyment to the land owner . Such fields may be funded by USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service). One method is to burn existing grass and weeds in late winter, then the re-growth is killed with herbicides. In May, wildflowers and native warm season grasses (NWSG) are planted with a no-till seed drill . The field pictured was planted four years ago with 4 species of grasses and 16 kinds of flowers. Some of these did not thrive, but others have done well and produce a spectacle of flowers in early to mid-July as well as a lesser display during May and later summer months.


The classic pollinators come to such flower meadows and just two examples are the orange sulphur and female black tiger swallowtail butterflies. The adults are likely mainly obtaining nectar there but the Sulphur caterpillars feed on alfalfa which is present, whereas the tiger swallowtail caterpillars likely feed on nearby black cherry and tulip trees. Bumblebees (on light lavender bergamot in photo) forage extensively in the pollinator field on the abundant wild bergamot and purple coneflowers. There are also honeybees (on purple cone flower in photo) present which is not generally a good thing. Honeybees are actually a non-native species from Europe, and as domesticated hives used to pollinate crops or produce honey can be very valuable. But wild or feral hives are in competition with native pollinators and are not desirable. In our particular setting far from crops that require pollination, honeybees are less abundant than the native bees and thus are not a major problem.

Some of the most interesting pollinators are insects such as the syrphid flies ( on yellow ox-eye sunflower in photo) which mimic yellow jackets and gain protection from their predators. Other insects which utilize the field habitat range from green camouflaged katydids, to dragonflies such as the widow skimmer, to the fig or green June beetles. The katydid and June beetle are herbivores whereas the dragonfly is a predator on flying insects. So quite a community of creatures populate the pollinator field and provide a real oasis of life.

So despite the fact that the planting of a pollinator field provides only an ephemeral burst of flowers over a short period of years, it is a significant source of food and cover for a wide variety of creatures and is a valuable tool in maintaining biodiversity within the pasture/hayfield habitat.