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Looking Ahead: Planting for Pollinators

Again this year, Crossroads at Big Creek is deeply involved in restoration, and starting this summer, one of our projects will be to restore the Bird and Butterfly/Pollinator Garden at the Front Entrance of the Collins Learning Center.

The current garden was installed in order to mitigate water runoff issues and to reduce the size of the grass lawn, but it also was intended to improve the environment for birds, butterflies, and insect pollinators. 

Although the plantings are stunning in some seasons, the garden is a hodgepodge of plants which have become overgrown. But more importantly, the garden is falling short of our restoration goal of increasing the ecological value of the land.

Course Corrections

Making evidence-informed restoration decisions is important to us, and in the years since the garden was first established, researchers have learned a great deal about the bird/butterfly connection and the rather specific needs of insect pollinators.

Consequently, we will use the most current science in selecting the native plants we will include in the garden, and if emerging science (some of the research will be done at Crossroads) indicates we should go in another direction, we will adapt.

Back when Crossroads created a prairie planting, the Wild Ones Meadow, and the Bird and Butterfly Garden, the thought was that native plants from the broader Midwest should be introduced and that establishing prairie species would help wildlife.

Ecologists now understand that plants from our own ecoregion are necessary for sustainable habitats. Researchers also have established that breeding songbirds depend almost exclusively on caterpillars to feed their offspring. And we know that moths and butterflies lay eggs only on specific locally native plants. 

But even locally native plants are not equally beneficial. Research by Dr. Doug Tallamy and his team at the University of Delaware has determined that 14% of native plants support 90% of butterfly and moth species. And that matters; without caterpillars, there can be no baby birds.

Supporting Our Bees

It becomes even more complicated with bees. Most bees – native wild bees and domestic European honeybees – will visit a variety of flowers to gather nectar, but in order to raise their young, they require high-quality pollen, pollen containing four essential amino acids from which to make protein. According to horticulturist Jarrod Fowler, “15-60% of native bees are pollen specialists which collect pollen from only 40% of regionally native plants.”

Consequently, for our garden restoration project, we will endeavor to identify and plant the wildflowers which support that greatest number of butterflies, moths, and native bees.

Pollinator Pals
Our Pollinator Pals working to improve our pollinator garden.

To make room for the ecoregional natives, a new volunteer group has formed. Called “Pollinator Pals,” this group meets Thursday mornings to begin the project by “editing out” (that sounds like more fun than weeding) the plants which do not support beneficial insects. Crossroads will provide instruction and equipment. If Thursdays don’t work for you but you are interested in helping at other times, contact Laurel at laurel@crossroadsatbigcreek.org.

Usually on Saturdays, our Habitat Healers meet to “edit out” undesirable invasive species throughout the preserve. But they will take a break for the holiday weekend. (There will be plenty of invasive plants left when they reconvene on July 8.)

Families will have plenty to do at Crossroads this week. We have an evening program on Thursday, Make-and-Take nature crafts on Friday, and on Monday and Wednesday, our traditional Family Nature programs will be offered. The Learning Center will be closed for the Independence Day Holiday, but trails and restrooms will be open.


Upcoming Activities

Thursday, June 29 

6:30 p.m. Summer Explorers

Break out the bug nets and the boots! Join us to learn about the fascinating creatures living in the preserve. The whole family is welcome to explore under the guidance of one of our naturalists. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.


Friday, June 30

10:00 a.m. Friday Make-and-Take at Crossroads

Join a Crossroads naturalist to discover nature through artistic and creative activities. Each week, families will get to make and take home a nature-inspired craft. Free and open to all ages. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.


Monday, July 3

10:00 a.m. Family Nature Program – Glaciers

Join one of our naturalists for some free family-oriented activities and nature exploration. Suitable for all ages. During this session, we will look at the Ice Age glaciers which provided Wisconsin with an amazing gift – our Great Lakes! We’ll explore how glacial ice has transformed our landscapes. Free and open to the public Meet at the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.


Tuesday, July 4

Collins Learning Center is Closed

While our trails and nature preserves will remain open, the Collins Learning Center will be closed in observance of Independence Day.


 Wednesday, July 5

10:00 a.m. Family Nature Programs – Insect Safari

Join one of our naturalists for some free family-oriented activities and nature exploration. Suitable for all ages. At this session, participant will explore the secrets of insect life cycles from egg to adult. Hand lenses and collection sets provided. Free and open to the public. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay.


Thursday, July 6

8:30 a.m. Pollinator Pals

If you like to garden and are interested in giving our native pollinators a helping hand, Crossroads at Big Creek could use your help! On Thursday mornings from 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. Pollinator Pals gardening volunteers are meeting at the Collins Learning Center to work on restoring the front Pollinator Garden. We will provide instruction, any needed equipment and coffee. If Thursdays don’t work for you but you are interested in helping at other times, contact Laurel at laurel@crossroadsatbigcreek.org.

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