The Ohio State University at Mansfield

Butterflies and bees

The brown misshapen circles of dead grass in the quarter-acre plot between Ovalwood Hall and a student parking lot barely hint at what’s to come, but next spring the land under the First Energy transmission lines will transform into the beginnings of a vibrant garden of flowers and grasses conducive to pollinators.

The project, called A Monarch Right-of-Way: A Pollinator Demonstration Plot, the first approved by the campus EcoLab committee, is a collaboration among Ohio State Extension, First Energy, Ohio Prairie Nursery, the Pollinator Partnership, Arnold’s Landscaping, Davey Tree and the Utility Arborists Association. The goal is to create a demonstration area to show landowners who have utility rights-of-way on their property some alternative wildlife habitats.

Four plots will be planted with different varies of native grasses and flowers such as purple coneflower, wild bergamot, tall coreopsis and butterfly weed specially chosen to attract pollinators in this region, according to Marne Titchenell, Wildlife Program Specialist with Extension. Two will be seeded in November with seeds donated by Ohio Prairie Nursery and the rest of the areas will be planted with small plants in spring. A plot along the tree line will include viburnum shrubs.

“We want to be able to show landowners that there are different ways you can establish these wildflower plots for pollinators,” Titchenell said. “You can seed them or you can actually go out and buy the plants.

“It should be a really pretty mix once it’s established, very colorful, very eye-catching. The neat thing is that the wildflowers will be blooming at different points in the growing season. There should be color in the plots during the entire growing season into the fall.”

Animal pollinators are essential to the food we eat. Scientists estimate that one in three bites of food we take can be traced back to animal pollinators.

The primary pollinators are bees, according to Denise Ellsworth, Program Director for Honey Bee and Native Pollinator Education at Extension.

“There are over 400 different species of bees in Ohio,” Ellsworth said. “All are pollinators and all have to visit flowers for food.”

The pollinator plot should also attract a variety of butterflies, including Monarch butterflies. Monarchs depend on milkweed for food, a place to lay their eggs, and fuel to complete their spectacular migrations.

"The numbers of Monarchs migrating have been declining over the years, and one of the reasons may be a lack of milkweed across the landscape. That's why we are incorporating several species of milkweed into each of our four plots," Titchenell said. Classes and workshops are in the planning stages, but signage will also identify plants for those who visit the garden.

“This is something everyone can do, whether it’s a pot on their patio or an addition to the community garden or something as ambitious as pollinator plots in a right-of-way,” Ellsworth said.