Several local, regional and national organizations have teamed up to raise awareness during what’s called National Pollinators Week. Jessie Lowry of the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines says they are trying to help a struggling segment of the food chain.
“Pollinators –butterflies and bees — have really been decreasing throughout our region, mainly due to loss of habitat. And so, through our “Plant.Grow.Fly” program at the zoo we are encouraging citizens, organizations, corporations to put butterfly gardens in the ground,” Lowry says.
The zoo has partnered with 37 other organizations in the program. She says the goal is to increase the resources available to the pollinators across the state and country. “They need places to shelter, they need resources to eat, and they need breeding resources. And we can do all of these by simply adding butterfly gardens to the landscape,” she explains.
The ability of bees to gather and spread pollen as they make honey is well known, but butterflies are often not thought of as pollinators. “Bees are meant for pollination, and so that’s really the ones that you really hear about doing the bulk of pollination,” Lowry says. “Butterflies are more accidental pollinators, but they are still important in the big scheme of things. One third of our global food supply depends on global pollinators — so one out of three bites of food. They are very underappreciated to just the human ecology and our economy as well.”
Lowry says you don’t have to be a plant expert to build a butterfly garden. “Plant.Grow.Fly was designed from the beginning to cater to novice gardeners, people who want to make a difference but maybe don’t have a lot of experience in gardening. We’ve really gathered all the information that you need to know on how to provide that habitat in your yard,” Lowry says. “A good butterfly garden is in a very sunny area and it has both nectar plants and host plants. A host plant is the only plant on which a butterfly can lay its eggs, and the only plant on which a caterpillar can eat.”
An effort to help the monarch butterfly is underway at Iowa State University which asks farmers to plant milkweed on conservation acres. Lowry says you can help the monarch and other butterflies by creating your butterfly garden. “You can go to BlankParkZoo.com, and we have seed packets for sale that include both host and nectar plants, that include milkweed. And we also have a link on our website that talks about many local greenhouses and nurseries that carry many of these plants,” Lowry says.
Once you plant your garden you can register it with Plant.Grow.Fly. You will get a certificate and they will recognize your garden on the Zoo’s website. She says they have already registered nearly 300 butterfly gardens from across Iowa and the surrounding states.