A year ago we planted the plowed ground in hardwood trees spaced in 10-foot rows. The area, slightly over an acre, has become a meadow of wildflowers. It will be several years before the trees shade the ground and change the nature of the understory. For now, wildflowers grow in the full sun on the gentle slope of the natural bank of a Mississippi River tributary. A visit to the field on a warm and sunny fall day finds numerous species of insects feeding on fall asters. The remote meadow actually buzzes from the number of bees in flight. There are many honey bees collecting nectar and pollen from white heath asters as well as several species of bumblebees and numerous species of solitary bees. Many sweat bees and other extremely small bees are present in the bright composite flowers. Flies that mimic the appearance of a bee or wasp are common in the meadow. They are protected from many predators by their yellow and brown stripes and transparent wings. Only their bulging fly eyes give away their true identity. The wildflowers, mostly fall asters, attract many species of butterflies. Songbirds dart through the three-foot-tall tangle of wildflowers.
The one-acre plot, providing food and habitat, is obviously an oasis for honey bees and many species of native pollinators. In the years that the ground is exposed to the sun, it will provide a sequence of blooming flowers as well as protective cover and nesting material for pollinators. Such pollinator meadows, or pastures, are seen as important spaces providing for a diverse population of pollinator species in agricultural areas. The large fields planted in modern industrial agriculture are often too wide for the smaller bees to fly across. To increase crop yield, some farms are incorporating pollinator meadows along field margins or between plantings to accommodate important native pollinators. Click on today’s photo of a honey bee collecting nectar from white heath asters, important plants for winter survival honey stores.--Richard