Last year, we established half a dozen pollinator patches across our campus.
We have a lots of landscaped (mowed) ground here. Mowed areas provide space for recreation and walking, and give a sense of openness that we all enjoy in landscapes around our buildings. However, there’s eventually a limit to the space we need. We found several nooks and crannies of mowed lawn that were better served as wildflower patches. Together, they amount to about 2/3 of an acre.
The benefits of replacing small patches of lawn are several: less labor and fuel spent on mowing, more visually interesting space (varied texture and color changing over time), pollinator habitat, carbon sequestration, and water infiltration, to name a few. Mowed lawns are not ecological dead zones – far from it – but they don’t match the ecological services provided by a biodiverse mix of native plants.
All that is true, but I still think the highest benefit is beauty. As Emily Dickenson wrote, “The only Commandment I ever obeyed — ‘Consider the Lilies.”
Also, there are all kinds of mysteries hidden in the many connections between the soil, plants, insects, and air. Just today I read about spiders flying on balloons of silk, lifted by electrostatic forces when wind is absent, flying thousands of feet up in the air. WHAT???! What other wonders might we be neglecting or harming in our ignorance?
As Pope Francis noted in Laudato si,
It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place… But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.
I’ll be doing some more formal plant surveys later, but today at midday I simply went to poke around the flowers and snap photos. (Please excuse the poor photo quality… I didn’t take a nice camera out, just my smartphone). The prominent pink/purple flowers are Wild Bergamont, aka Beebalm, aka Monarda fistulosa. For scale, the flower heads average about 2″ diameter. I was struck by the diversity of life just within a small space.