Alabama Power program turns open plots into pollinator habitats

 

By JUSTIN AVERETTE / Special to the Reporter

Alabama Power employees has spent the last few months turning several open fields around the company’s lakes into pollinator habitats.

When most people think of pollinators, bees automatically come to mind. That’s for good reason, as bees pollinate 80 percent of the world’s plants, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

However, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, other insects, hummingbirds, lizards and bats are also all pollinators that plants depend on.

Josh Yerby heads up the pollinator project for the company’s recreation group. He said a successful ecosystem and food chain depends on plants and pollinators.

“Most plants cannot produce fruit or even seeds unless they are pollinated. That can happen by two ways: the wind carrying pollen from one flower to another or through pollinators as they move from one plant to another looking for food,” Yerby said.  “Pollination is an important part of a plant’s life cycle and for us too. Much of the food we eat is the result of pollinators.”

Yerby said the seed-mix chosen for the lake plots will grow year-around and is made up of eight types of grass and more than 25 flowers. Those include popular varieties like black-eyed Susan’s, goldenrods and sunflowers as well as less common plants. The seed mix was designed to have at least two flowering plants throughout the year, including winter.

Yerby consulted with Dani Carroll, regional extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System on the project.

“Humans like to eat a variety of good, and we also like to eat all year long. Pollinators do, too,” Carroll said. “A pollinator habitat full of different types of flowers of varying shapes, colors and heights will attract a wide variety of insects. A successful pollinator garden should have multiple species of plants blooming throughout the year to provide food.”

Caroll said it’s important to have a wide variety because flowers are not ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to pollinators.

“Flowers come in many shapes, sizes, smells and colors. They bloom at different times during the day and year. Their nectar and pollen attract different types of pollinators,” Yerby said. “For example, moths and bats visit night blooming flowers while bees are sleeping. Butterflies tend to visit long, deep flowers using their proboscis, which you can think of like a human tongue. Hummingbirds like deep flowers too. On the other hand, some are attracted to smell. Beetles like spicy, fruit or rancid odors, while flies gravitate to stinky flowers.”

The pollinator project is part of The Preserves, a series of enhancements Alabama Power plans to make at its recreational sites. These include fishing piers, playgrounds, hiking trails, boat ramps, picnic areas, gazebos and other improvements.

Alabama Power maintains 65 public recreation sites along its 3,500 miles of shoreline in the state.

So far, pollinator plots have been added at Lay, Logan Martin and Neely Henry lakes, but plans are to expand them to other lakes. While open fields have been used so far, Yerby said the company could use a seed mix designed for more wooded and shaded areas too.

“These seeds are designed by a company called Roundstone Native Seed for the area we have. There’s no fertilizer. There’s no prep as far as conditioning the soil because these are plants native to the Southeast or native to the type of soil at the site. We can do seed mixes for both open and wooded areas,” Yerby said. “We won’t have to do anything to these plots for the next five years once they are put in.”

Each pollinator plot also has interpretive signs explaining what a pollinator is and why their work is so important.

While buckwheat was planted this past summer at the sites, the full seed mix will be planted between now and October.

Yerby advises anyone interested in learning more about pollinator plots to visit their local extension office. More information can also be founded online at www.aces.edu.