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Going Native: Plants & Pollinators

Mt. Warner Pollinator Meadow in summer

Beautiful wildflowers in a meadow, colorful butterflies and buzzy bees flitting about, and birds singing in the sun. This image evokes peacefulness and joy. But flowers and butterflies aren’t just pretty to look at: They’re critically important. And beneath this bucolic vision lies one of the big ecological challenges of our time.

Bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and beetles are some of the animals that move pollen between flowers, enabling the plants to produce seeds. These pollinators are vital for other wildlife: Fruits and seeds are a major part of the diet of at least a quarter of all bird species, and of mammals ranging from voles to black bears.

Pollinators are essential to human life too. 85% of the world’s flowering plants—including more than two thirds of the world’s crop species—rely on the service pollinators provide. Without pollinators, there would be no apples, pumpkins, blueberries, nor many other fruits and vegetables.

Globally and locally, pollinator populations are suffering from habitat loss, pesticide use, and diseases. (And it isn’t only about honeybees, which are a European species that are mostly used like livestock.) Wild, native pollinators are often adapted for specific plants, pollinating efficiently and producing larger and more abundant fruits and seeds. But these native bees are struggling to survive. As these pollinators disappear, the effect on the health and viability of natural plant communities and crops could be devastating.

The Value of Local Native Plants
Driving down North Maple St. in Hadley, you’ll see one of those bucolic wildflower fields with Mount Warner rising in the background. This 20-acre oasis, just a mile from the strip malls on Route 9, is Kestrel’s Mount Warner Meadow.

Native boneset thoroughwort

Originally conserved by Valley Land Fund in 1994, this meadow was invaded over time by woody shrubs like invasive buckthorn and multiflora rose among others. Over the past several years, our stewardship team has worked to improve this habitat for pollinators. With funding support from a private donor and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) run by the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), they’ve significantly reduced woody invasive plants and knocked back a 3-acre patch of non-native Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) too dense for wildlife to move through. And although fighting invasives is an ongoing battle, these efforts are successfully encouraging native wildflowers and grasses in the meadow.

In fact, two of the native plant species growing in the Meadow are now helping to increase native plants throughout the Valley. The Native Plant Trust’s Nasami Farm partnered with Kestrel in 2021, 2022, and this fall to collect seeds from blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and boneset thoroughwort (Eupatorium perfoliatum), both of which prefer moist meadows.

Miho Connolly, Nursery Coordinator at Nasami Farm, said wild seed collection from local populations is central to their mission to increase the availability of native plants. When she visited the site, she estimated at least 1,000 reproductive blue vervain plants in the meadow. “I was amazed to see some patches that appear to be solely Verbena: They look a lot like our seed flats!” she said.

Blue Vervain flowers in Mt. Warner Meadow
Native Blue Vervain blooming at Kestrel’s Mount Warner Meadow in Hadley.

“We prioritize seed-grown plants because they have greater genetic diversity,” she explained. Many plants sold at big box stores are grown from cuttings, meaning that they are all genetically identical. “Plants grown from locally collected seed are well adapted to conditions here and carry the genetics that have coevolved with our local ecosystems. Genetic diversity provides resilience in a population, which is particularly important as the climate changes.”

Through thoughtful management, the Mount Warner Meadow will continue to provide a haven for pollinating insects and other wildlife, and help source the next generation of native wildflowers in the Valley.

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