Stories in Kentucky

Planting for Pollinators

Implementing diverse strategies at its nature preserves will result in more pollinator habitat throughout the Commonwealth.

A monarch butterfly visits a purple flower.
Monarch Butterfly A monarch butterfly visits and flower. © Chris Helzer/The Nature Conserancy

Transferring pollen to fertilize trees, vegetables and fruits is an important job. The work is carried out by pollinators such as butterflies, moths and bees with impressive efficiency, making them a key part of the worldwide food supply.

Pollinators In Jeopardy

Pollinator species move pollen from one flower to another, thereby fertilizing plants and allowing them to reproduce. According to the Maryland-based Native Pollinators in Agriculture Project, approximately 30 percent of food and fiber crops grown on the planet—roughly one out of every four mouthfuls of food and drink we consume—depend on pollinators for reproduction.

However, pollinators are declining worldwide. This is due to the same environmental challenges affecting other species, including the loss or degradation of habitat, the use of pesticides and other pollution, and a changing climate. 

First Responder for Nature

The Nature Conservancy is doing its part to respond to this crisis. In Kentucky, this plays out at large and small-scale projects that will collectively benefit pollinator species.

“We planted wildflowers on four acres at our Mantle Rock Nature Preserve with the specific goal of attracting pollinators, especially monarch butterflies,” says Chris Minor, TNC’s director of land management. The restored prairie is located near the parking lot to engage visitors in this important issue.

On a larger scale, Minor has deployed TNC’s Kentucky Fire Strike Team to targeted areas throughout the state to implement controlled burns that mimic historic disturbances required for healthy prairie and grassland habitats favored by pollinator species. TNC also hosted a Green River Pollinator Summit in 2018 to engage partners throughout the watershed around this important topic.

TNC also created a 16-acre pollinator habitat on part of a conservation easement held on a local farm. The project was made possible thanks to support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We hope that planting pollinator gardens, restoring native prairies and educating the public can lead to positive results,” adds Minor. “This needs to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of food production systems and the health of the environment in Kentucky and around the world.”

Five purple coneflowers emerge from tall green grasses
Purple Coneflowers Purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia). In restored © Chris Helzer/The Nat