Wild Seed Project tree background
by Heather McCargo

Habitat Corridors for Pollinating Insects

Bees and butterflies are getting a lot of attention these days, now that they are in severe decline. Our whole ecosystem, including many food crops, depends on them. Pollinators transfer pollen between flowers, resulting in fertilization and the combining of genes, which ensures the genetic diversity that is crucial for the long-term survival of a species.

Without bees, butterflies, and other pollinators there will be no food. And they can’t do their job without a place to nest, reproduce, and spend the winter. That’s where we come in: The Wild Seed Project aims to build corridors of supportive environments for migrating insects and birds to protect and preserve Maine’s environment.

What pollinators want
Bees and butterflies are most active in warm weather when they are foraging for nectar and pollen, yet this is just part of their life cycle. During an insect’s larval stage, they need the foliage or stems of specific native plants to reproduce and feed (the monarch butterfly’s dependence on milkweed is a classic example). Many of our native species rely on green foliage, woody stems, and leaf litter for year-round food and habitat.

But most exotic landscape and garden plants do not provide our native pollinators with the habitat they need. Ornamental plants have been bred for characteristics that are appealing to people, not bees or butterflies. For instance, many multipetalled double flowers have no pollen, nectar, or ovaries; they must be cloned to reproduce, and therefore do not attract pollinating insects or produce seeds. Herbs and most agricultural crops, on the other hand, produce seeds or fruit and rely on pollinators to reproduce.

We humans have altered the natural landscape and reduced pollinating insects’ ability to survive, but we can bring their habitat back. Creating corridors of native plants stretching across the landscape, from healthy wild habitats through farmland and into our most populated urban areas, will give native pollinators pathways for foraging, nesting, and migrating.

What would a habitat corridor look like? Most people can’t imagine a city or suburban area populated with native plants, so the Wild Seed Project has set to work with graduate students from the Conway School of Landscape Design to create a Pollinator Corridor Vision Plan for Portland, Maine.

Creating pollinator habitat in Portland
This area is home to most of the state’s human population, and many of our native plant species, and the fauna that depend on them, have been replaced with buildings, paving, and exotic species. But there’s still space for native plants and pollinators. The goal of the Pollinator Corridor Vision Plan is to develop a design manual and tool kit for returning native plants to the city. The plan emphasizes the creation of habitat corridors that support the insects and birds that are crucial to a healthy ecosystem and agricultural production. This will help species migrate across the landscape that connects the metropolitan area with the surrounding countryside.

In the city of Portland, native plant species can thrive anywhere there is bare dirt, lawn, waste areas, or weeds. Wet drainage areas, dry gravelly soil, mown strips, and roadside edges can all be made more beautiful with the addition of native plants that will invite the pollinators back and keep the native habitat in balance. The Pollinator Corridor Vision Plan will offer planting ideas for interested citizens, including homeowners, tenants, businesses, schools, city officials, and land trusts.

In Portland there are many grassroots organization and active citizens working to plant species that are attractive to pollinators. The Portland Pollinator Partnership was created last year to bring these groups together and to share pollinator information. You can find a list of the partnering organizations at: portlandpollinators.org.

We will be publishing the vision plan in Wild Seed Magazine in June 2015 with links to the Wild Seed Project website. The students from the Conway School will present some preliminary design ideas in Portland on March 10 at 6 pm at the Rieche School—anyone who is interested is free to come and watch.

Actions to take in March:
1) If you’re interested in learning more, read Doug Tallamy’s books—he explains better than anyone why it is important to cultivate native plants:

Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy
Probably the most important book you can read on why native plants are important. Timber Press, ISBN-13 978-0-88192-992-8

The Living Landscape by Rick Dark and Doug Tallamy
Excellent photos and information on designing for beauty and biodiversity in a home garden. Timber Press, ISBN 978-1-60469-408-6

2) Make a list or design plan for your landscape for spring. If you are a renter and feel that you cannot do anything at your home, look for community projects to get involved in.

3) Order some locally sourced Maine native seeds from our website and try some propagating. Read the native plant section of the website for tips on native seed propagation.