MINOT, N.D. — It's about the birds and the bees, and the butterflies and the moths. Think of it as a sort of rest stop, not only for insects that are vital for pollinating plants, but for visitors to the North Dakota State Fair too.
While a burst of color is noticeably the most striking feature, there's a hidden message behind the beauty. The display is really a demonstration of pollinator plants and the importance they have on the environment. Disappearing habitat on an alarming scale has led to a dramatic decline in insects that were common a few years ago, bees and butterflies among them.
Given the proper welcome, such as the impressive planting that has emerged on the state fairgrounds, bees and butterflies and other pollinating insects necessary for healthy plant life will return. Therein is the message behind the beauty of the natural garden.
"Pollinators are declining. We've seen a decline in Monarch butterflies, bees and other species," said Sandra Johnson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department conservation biologist. "The Monarch butterfly is in position to be listed as an endangered species."
It wasn't very long ago that Monarch butterflies were included in every child's bug collection or were an important part of numerous school science projects. Today though, the colorful and dainty Monarchs are a rarity. Many varieties of bees, the champions of all pollinators, have seen a population downfall as well in recent years.
Insect life is closely linked to bird populations too, which have been in steady decline for several years. The wide scale spraying of pesticides and herbicides has caused changes in both insect and plant life, and perhaps not always for the better.
"Creating plots like this," said Johnson while standing alongside the colorful planting on the Game and Fish grounds at the state fair, "is just one way of helping out those populations."
Indeed it has. Bees and butterflies, even the occasional Monarch, have been visiting the pollinator plot. Johnson says she expects a greater variety of pollinators to show up as more species of plants begin to bloom.
"It's gorgeous here on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds. I don't know if you could find a prettier spot. It's very colorful," remarked Johnson.
Johnson says the Game and Fish planting is something anyone can do.
"It's definitely a teaching tool. These seeds are available. We can have really high preserve plots with lots of flowers and nectar," said Johnson.
Insects are phenomenal pollinators, moving pollen from one plant to another. Without their help many plants would struggle to produce as nature intended. Stands of wildflowers near farm crops are known to attract necessary pollinators.
Some plants, such as milkweed, are native to North Dakota but have been all but eliminated by practices like spraying. Four counties in the state list the plant as a noxious weed, but the assault on milkweed has had led to other ramifications.
"That's the only plant that the Monarch butterfly larvae feed on," said Johnson.
Nationally an effort is underway to establish a corridor from the northern U.S. all the way to Mexico to accommodate a very diminished Monarch migration. It'll help other pollinators too. Johnson says every little bit helps and encourages other to consider planting a pollinator plot, regardless of space available.
"It doesn't have to be as big a planting as this one," said Johnson. "It can be 10-foot square. We want people to check this out and decide if it's something they want to do."