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Pollinator Plants Are All the Buzz

There is not a lot of activity in the small west Texas town of Knox City. But there is something that is creating quite a buzz locally: the pollinator demonstration at the Bud E. Smith Plant Materials Center (PMC), part of the national Plant Materials Program operated by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

It was a warm day in May and the colorful flowering plants were full of activity from fluttering butterflies to buzzing bees. Lots of different kinds of bees in fact - from honey bees and bumble bees, to ground bees and sweat bees.

In fact, the pollinator activity was so impressive the NRCS recently held a pollinator workshop at the PMC to discuss pollinator habitats and their purpose. Master Gardeners, NRCS employees, teachers and property owners were on hand for the workshop, eager to learn more about the pollinators and how to grow the plants that benefit them.

The pollinator mixes were predominately made up of Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), Blackeyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Bachelor Button (Centaurea cyanus) and Sunflower (Helianthus sp.). The seeds were part of eight different commercial mixes that PMC Manager Brandon Carr planted in blocks to show the variations between them.

"The goal of the demonstration was to be able to bring people out to the site and explain the different mixes and what they looked like, as well as discuss planting and management," Carr said. "We also wanted to see what kind of pollinators these various plants would attract.

"In the end, I was surprised at the different types of pollinators we saw," he continued. "It was much more than I anticipated, which is a really good thing."

Ricky Linex, biologist with the NRCS zone office in Weatherford, gave a presentation on pollinators and native plants and what they mean for our future.

"Pollinators, such as bees, moths and butterflies, are an important part of our nation's food supply," Linex explained. "With their dwindling numbers, we are beginning to realize our pollinators are in trouble. But the good news is that every one of us can help improve their habitat and help their population numbers."

Linex talked to the audience about native plants that are beneficial to pollinators. Native plants are ideal pollinator plants because they are naturally more disease resistant and don't require the pesticides that other plants do.

Entomologist Dr. Scott Longing, with Texas Tech University, was on hand to capture some of the pollinators in the pollinator patch and show workshop attendees the wide variety of insects the plants were attracting. Dr. Longing then gave a presentation about the role the various pollinators play in the pollination process, and how some bees are part of a colony, while other types of bees are solitary bees.

He explained that colony bees, such as honey bees and bumble bees, have a queen bee and then worker bees that support the queen and the colony. Solitary bees, such as leafcutter and mason bees, work alone and construct their own nests.

Manuel De Leon, biologist with the NRCS zone office in Lubbock, gave the group a presentation about NRCS programs that benefit pollinator species, especially the monarch butterfly.

"NRCS is working with agricultural producers in Texas to combat the decline of monarch butterflies by planting milkweed and other nectar-rich plants on private lands through the agency's Monarch Butterfly Initiative," DeLeon said.

"The milkweed not only provides food for monarchs, it also supports other pollinators such as honey bees, that are vital to agriculture," he explained. "Milkweed and other native plants also provide homes for beneficial insects that control the spread of destructive insects."

The group was given a tour of the pollinator demonstrations and had the opportunity to test their skills at plant identification. Carr also had equipment on display to show planting techniques and seedbed preparation. He discussed the importance of proper equipment selection when seeding mixes with various seed sizes and how to adjust equipment to ensure successful plantings.

The workshop attendees were treated to a lunch hosted by the Wichita Brazos Soil and Water Conservation District.

Pollinator Plants Are All the Buzz, Dee Ann Littlefield, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist (2018, July)