The Pollinator Preserve

As we enter the nineteenth year of this ever-popular destination, we continue to adjust our plans based on current research and what we learn year to year. Sometimes we add specific plants to attract certain pollinators or we adjust our signage to include fascinating observations that help all of us better understand the interactions between plants and insects. We also added a welcoming arch and vertical supports in 2022.

This year, we are making the biggest change to date. A change that may lead to questions from some of you, and for others, you will likely be thinking ‘It’s about time you did this’.

The netting that covers the Butterfly House structure from May through September is not going up this year. For a variety of reasons, we know an enclosed, shaded garden populated primarily by butterflies and caterpillars is not a good idea.

The netting blocks 50% of the light from entering the space. This leads to unhealthy plants that produce fewer flowers and then easily succumb to disease or plant pests such as aphids. Unhealthy plants leads to nectar shortages, undernourished butterflies and the need to remove hundreds of caterpillars from the enclosure each year.

The netting also prevents insects from entering the space. While this seems to be a good thing, it allows the pests already living inside to flourish, insects such as aphids and spined soldier bugs. The aphids destroy many of the plants while the spined soldier bugs eat the caterpillars. Their enemies cannot get in to balance the populations of these pests so we lose both plants and caterpillars far more than we do in the outer gardens.

I invite you to find further information in two blogs written on this subject. Turing a House into a Home and Where’s the Net?

We aim to continue with an ecologically sound open pollinator garden for all insects in 2023 and beyond. Yes, there will be additional challenges, but the plants and insects will be healthier and able to live without barriers. Helping to connect visitors to the natural world can often be a balancing act, with supporting the needs of local wildlife and preserving the integrity of the natural system on one side and providing a positive visitor experience on the other. We are excited to continue to create space in the Pollinator Preserve that can accomplish both. A diverse array of insects, birds, and other creatures will benefit from this much-needed habitat, and we know our visitors will, too, as they experience the beauty and activity of a healthy and well-balanced ecosystem.

We know nature’s way is best, and we move forward making a home for the plants and insects rather than trying to create an artificial ‘house’ focused only on butterflies.

To read more about pollinator decline:

To learn what you can do to help

Many thanks to PECO for their generous program support by funding education in the Pollinator Preserve in 2021 and for providing a roving Garden Education Station in 2022.

We are grateful for the support of The Robert F. Schumann Foundation to fund our internship program at the Pollinator Preserve.

Pollinator Blogs and Videos

Design and Plant Lists

Additional Resources