Pollinator Partners showcase gardens to support beneficial insects
Bees get all the buzz when it comes to the important job of pollinating plants that produce the food we eat and the blossoms that brighten our day.
But what about butterflies — even beetles and flies?
Each of those backyard and garden visitors plays a part in the pollination process, according to Wilma Light, a Penn State master gardener in Ligonier. She is among the key figures behind the new Westmoreland Pollinator Partners.
The group of nonprofits, schools and community gardens is dedicated to promoting, protecting and preserving pollinators and their habitats. As its first major event, it is planning a June 15 Pollinator Palooza tour of 16 gardens throughout the county to showcase plants homeowners can use to attract pollinator insects to their properties.
“It’s more than just nice flowers,” Light said of plants that provide sustenance for insects as they, in turn, transfer the pollen needed to create seeds and fruit. “Pollinators are needed for one-third of our food. It’s important that we help them.”
Light has learned about many species of pollinators that are active locally, and the plants they favor, while helping to plant three Penn State-certified pollinator gardens in the Ligonier area — one at her home and two on the property of the Loyalhanna Watershed Association, one of 16 entities that have joined the Pollinator Partners.
Light is working with a Penn State researcher who is testing man-made houses with hollow reeds where female mason bees can deposit their eggs while pollinating local fruit trees.
“They’re smaller than bumblebees, and they’re solitary bees compared to honey bees,” she said. “They hardly ever sting.”
At the Ligonier Community Garden, on watershed property just west of Ligonier Borough, Light is in charge of pollinator-pleasing plants that are grown at the edge of the garden’s 18 raised beds.
Native honeysuckle, she notes, is a favorite of hummingbirds, important non-insect pollinators, while milkweed attracts monarch butterflies.
Dandelions, though seen as a nuisance by homeowners who desire a lawn of uninterrupted green, are a good food source for pollinators, Light said.
“We love butterflies, but I don’t think we give enough respect to the flies and the beetles,” she added. “The soldier beetle will pollinate magnolias. We have a small magnolia tree at the Ligonier Country Market,” a Saturday morning market located on another section of the watershed association property.
A group focusing on pollinators grew out of the association’s discussion last fall of a proposed new educational outreach.
“It blossomed into this group of interested partners throughout the county,” said Susan Huba, watershed association executive director. Light, she said, “took this idea, with all of her contacts and her network, and was able to get all these groups involved in a short time.”
In addition to the watershed association, the Ligonier Country Market and the Ligonier Community Garden, members of the Pollinator Partners include Powdermill Nature Reserve, Penguin Court/Brandywine Conservancy, Forbes State Forest, Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Ligonier Valley YMCA, Amos K. Hutchinson Elementary School, Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, Penn State Extension at Donohoe Center, West Overton Museums, Mt. Pleasant Library, the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College (Foster and Muriel McCarl Coverlet Gallery), the Westmoreland Museum of American Art and Historic Hanna’s Town.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .