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Wildflowers Benefit Agricultural Operations, Ecosystems

By Jocelyn Benjamin, Natural Resources Conservation Service

A photo of wildflowers.

May 1, 2017 - Wildflowers inspire the oohs and aahs of spring and summer with their vibrant colors and sweet fragrances. But they’re more than just beautiful. They provide many benefits to the world around us.

This week marks National Wildflower Week (May 1-7), and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is celebrating the importance of wildflowers, which add to the productivity and the beauty of the nation’s farms, ranches and forests.

Wildflowers are native to where they grow, meaning they’re conditioned to thrive there.   They require less water and fertilizer, are less prone to disease and are more tolerant to pests. They also provide critical habitat for pollinators, beneficial insects and wildlife, which is important for ecosystem function and pollination. Wildflowers can improve soil health, prevent erosion, improve water quality, increase yields and enhance forage conditions for livestock.

Unfortunately, many wildflower species have been lost to development and the spread of invasive plants.

That’s why NRCS helps agricultural producers integrate wildflowers onto their working lands through a variety of conservation practices, such as cover crops, field borders and prescribed grazing.

On croplands, field borders along with wildflowers, can provide seeds, insects, and other food for wildlife, such as bobwhite quail, pheasant and cottontail rabbits.

Through prescribed grazing and conservation cover, ranchers can manage pastures for high biodiversity, which yields a variety of wildflowers and grasses that are good for forage, pollinators and wildlife.

On grasslands, wildflowers can help boost crop yields, add natural proteins to the diets of livestock, provide erosion control on cropland, help manage and filter stormwater, create groundwater filtration systems and reduce the impacts of drought. 

And in forests, practices like prescribed burning and forest stand improvement that aim to improve forest health often lead to new wildflowers sprouting in the understory.

Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners can add wildflowers to their operations through several Farm Bill programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Wildflowers and native grasses are most often found in conservation practices on working lands that aim to support pollinators, including honey bees, native bees and butterflies.

About 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. Studies show that native wildflowers are four times more attractive to pollinators than non-native wildflowers.

If you need help selecting which native wildflowers to plant, check out information available from the NRCS’ PLANTS database. You’ll discover which native wildflowers are best to meet your land’s needs.

Remember, healthy and colorful wildflowers not only provide natural beauty to our landscapes, they benefit the environment, wildlife and you.