Wildflowers Provide Critical Habitat for Wildlife and Pollinators
Posted by Justin Fritscher, NRCS writer
It all begins with a seed. Filled with food and information, it one day grows into something beautiful―a wildflower. And before the flower’s time is done, it has shared pollen and nectar for an abundance of bees, butterflies, beetles and other pollinators. When the flower is gone, it leaves behind fruit or seeds to feed wildlife, or to begin the cycle anew.
From prairies to roadsides and bogs to hillsides, wildflowers provide vital food and habitat for wildlife and pollinators. They’re an essential part of ecosystems and benefit conservation efforts on America’s private lands.
This week marks National Wildflower Week, a great time for everyone to celebrate the importance of native wildflowers. As native plants, they’re more resistant to pests, more resilient to climate extremes and require less maintenance. Plus, they’re beautiful!
Milkweed and Monarchs
Wildflower plantings are an essential part of many conservation efforts by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), especially ones aimed at creating habitat. Wildflowers, especially milkweed, form the core of the agency’s special effort launched last year to establish monarch butterfly habitat in the southern Great Plains and Midwest.
The monarch is one of the most familiar butterflies in North America. The orange-and-black butterfly is known for its annual, multi-generational migration from Mexico to as far north as Canada. To raise their young during the journey, monarch butterflies depend on milkweed, perhaps better called the “Monarch Flower” for its crown-like flowers and critical hostplant status for the monarch butterfly.
But monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of milkweed lost to agriculture, development and other causes.
This is why NRCS is working with agricultural producers in 10 states to plant milkweed and other nectar-rich wildflowers on their farms, ranches and other working lands.
Right now, producers in the southern Great Plains and Midwest are watching milkweed and native wildflowers come alive on their land, while others are preparing their land for planting next fall.
Wildflowers Help Other Pollinators, Wildlife
Wildflowers on working lands benefit other pollinators, such as native bees and honey bees, as well as a variety of wildlife species.
Pollinator conservation practices provide permanent or seasonal habitat to increase the abundance of pollen and nectar, expand the availability of blooming plants throughout the growing season (ideally from early spring to late fall) and add or protect potential nest sites and caterpillar hostplants.
NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to help plan and implement pollinator conservation practices. Those interested in assistance are encouraged to contact their local USDA service center.