A monarch butterfly lands on a gayfeather flower.
Tam Frager plants a garden for native pollinators at the Buffalo Gap Campground in North Dakota.
Buzz, buzz, buzz . . . bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds and bats head for the Buffalo Gap Campground where there is a new garden with native plants for the native pollinators.
The campground is at the western edge of the U.S. Forest Service Little Missouri National Grassland, north of Interstate 94 and west of Medora, N.D. It’s near a woody draw with green ash, plum, chokecherry, and native currant bushes. The planting site is at the entrance to the day use parking lot.
Kelly Privratsky, a biological technician with the Forest Service’s Medora Ranger District in Dickinson, N.D., is in charge of the garden site along with Forest Service botanist Joe Washington. Their office received a one-time grant to establish the garden. One of its goals is to help teach local school groups about the importance of native plants and their pollinators.
The garden is divided into two parts—one has a “perennial garden” look with wood mulch, and the other a “prairie” restoration with native grasses mixed in.
At the end of May, BLMers Tam Frager and Linda Talley from the North Dakota Field Office helped with planting about 60-odd natives. Kelly had already placed about 150 in the ground; among them were flax, spiderwort, black-eyed susans, wild bergamot, and bedstraw. The plants were purchased from a native plant nursery in Bismarck, and local penstemon and grass clumps were salvaged from oil and gas development sites.
We were lucky to have an unusually wet spring. Since the initial planting, three bird baths have been added to the site. Aluminum signs written in calligraphy by Tam Frager identify the plants with both their Latin and common names. As of late August, the plants were doing well. The late summer bloomers like goldenrod, gayfeather, and black-eyed susan have very good foliage color. The Annise hyssop had the most striking bluish flowers. The garden should be great for pollinating insects.
There’s still plenty to be done. Kelly noted that we need to control certain invasive weeds like Canada thistle and creeping jenny, and install perimeter edging. He’d also like to plant more native shortgrasses like blue grama and buffalograss to aid with weed control. He thinks the natives will eventually get established and push out the annual exotics. Wood chips may be placed around the plants to keep the weeds down—no fertilizer will be used—and the plants will rely on rainwater for moisture.
The pollinator garden is part of the Forest Service Region One’s Native Plants and Pollinators Initiative. It is being implemented in tandem with “The Pollinator Partnership,” which has as its mission the protection of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research (see www.pollinator.org for more details).
If you are in the western part of North Dakota along Interstate 94, stop by and pick up some pointers for your own garden. You might even spot some native pollinators!
Why Plant a Native Pollinator Garden?
Nearly all flowering plants need to be pollinated, and most depend on bees, butterflies, and other animals to get it done. Why plant a native pollinator garden?
- Native plants provide the right habitat for native pollinators—non-native species may not have enough nectar or pollen or they may be inedible to butterfly or moth caterpillars.
- Pollinators are vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems, are essential for plant reproduction, and produce diversity in the plants they pollinate (the more diverse plants are, the better they can adapt to environmental changes).
- Pollinators need our help! Insects and other animals pollinate one-third of the food we eat, including coffee and chocolate. Several butterfly and bumblebee species have disappeared from parts of their range because of habitat loss, disease, pollution, and pesticide poisoning.