Traveling long distances through the UP, small and neatly packaged plant plugs reached the UPLC office on a Friday afternoon. These plugs of native Michigan plants were awarded to UPLC through “Project Wingspan”, a program facilitated by an organization known as the Pollinator Partnership. The Pollinator Partnership works with a network of volunteers to “increase the quality, quantity, and connectivity of pollinator habitat across the Midwest and Great Lakes Region”. Project Wingspan aims to collaborate with land stewards and organizations like UPLC to protect and support endangered pollinator populations such as monarch butterflies and rusty-patched bumble bees (RPBB) by cultivating and protecting their native habitats.
Equipped with shovels, gloves, and a few hundred plant plugs, we embarked out on a Sunday morning to a conservation easement next to the Ford River. There, UPLC staff met with landowners and volunteers from WildOnes - a nonprofit whose mission is to promote environmentally sound landscaping practices. Together we burrowed out spots along the river bank, gently loosened the soil away from the roots of each teeny plug, and secured over 200 pollinator-friendly plants in their new home. Species of native wildflower plugs planted included common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and blazing star (Liatris spp).
Now, why is this so important? Today, pollinators are facing several threats from disease and habitat loss to non-native species. This once-eroding bank along the Ford River was stabilized by another party in the early 2000s. However, since then, non-native invasive flora began to spread and native plants were few and far between. With help from Project Wingspan and efforts from the landowner, this area is now being transformed into a feeding and breeding habitat for pollinators along the river, which will help continue to contain the bank, protect the water and fish habitat, and allow our natural community to begin to thrive again along this migratory corridor.
The work does not stop here! UPLC, in partnership with the landowner and volunteers, will continue to monitor the plugs and supplement the area with other native plant species to encourage a thriving, diverse ecosystem. Thank you to all the volunteers and partners that helped get these precious plants ready for pollinators!