Apr 29, 2022

Native Garden at Sweet Springs Supports Pollinators

Pollinators are essential

The drastic population decline of bees worldwide has been widely publicized over the past few years, and for good reason. Though these insects are small, they play a huge role in sustaining both agriculture and natural habitats.

A bee covered in pollon from mouth to stinger sips nectar from a flower. The flower is yellow and the bee is between the many stamens in the blossom.
A bee with large amounts of pollen on its body. Photographed by Guérin Nicolas. Shared here via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License.

Many crops depend on pollinators

In fact, much of the global food supply depends on pollinators like bees, birds, and butterflies. As these animals fly from blossom to blossom feeding on nectar, they also transfer pollen from one plant to the next. This fertilizes the plants, helping them to produce fruits and seeds. In fact, about 75% of the world’s plants and crops depend at least in part on pollinators. Many of these pollinator-dependent plants are cultivated to provide food for people and livestock, including more than 100 crops grown in the United States alone.

Pollinators fertilize wild, native plants, too

California is considered a biodiversity hotspot, a place where a great variety of native plants and animals thrive. Our pollinators are no exception, with about 1,600 bee species and 1,384 butterfly and moth species native to the state. (There are also many species of birds, bats, and other insects that act as pollinators.)

A monarch butterfly feeds on nectar from manzanita blooms. Photograph courtesy of JKehoe_Photos, via Flickr Creative Commons license.
A monarch butterfly feeds on nectar from manzanita blooms. Photograph courtesy of JKehoe_Photos, via Flickr Creative Commons license.

These native pollinators have evolved alongside native plants and other native animals, and their wellbeing is interconnected. The pollinators feed on the flowering plants, the plants depend on the pollinators in order to reproduce, and other animals eat the fruits and seeds that the fertilization process produces. Some animals even eat poison oak berries!

Poison oak berries are a food source for some wildlife.
Poison oak berries are a food source for some wildlife.

We can help pollinators survive

Avoiding chemical fertilizers, removing invasive plants, and planting native species are three ways to help pollinators survive and flourish.

Native garden at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve supports pollinators

The Estuary Program recently provided funding to help The Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District (CSLRCD) plant a pollinator-friendly garden in the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. With the help of community volunteers and members of the Morro Coast Audubon Society, which owns and manages the preserve, the CSLRCD successfully installed 700 native plants including coast live oak, coffeeberry, toyon (also known as California holly), hedge nettles, black sage, and more.

Initial sweet springs site
Before the pollinator garden was planted, the ground in this corner of the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve was relatively bare.
Understory plants form part of the pollinator garden
Now, a variety of new native plants form a green understory beneath the tall trees. 

Some of these plants play multiple roles in the ecosystem, like toyon, which provides nectar and pollen from flowers in the summer and berries in the winter.

Volunteer planting a native plant at Sweet Springs
A volunteer loosens the roots of a toyon plant before easing it into the hole prepared for it.

A longtime Audubon volunteer named Cindy attended the planting event. She marveled at the longevity of the small live oak she was settling into the hole she had dug and watered for it. She said, “people want to plant something that gets big fast, but oaks will live in these sands for hundreds of years.” As the young oaks and other plants grow, they will provide more food and habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.

Cindy MCAS volunteer
Cindy, a longtime Morro Coast Audubon Society Volunteer, gestures to show that though the live oak she is planting is small now, it will grow much larger over its long lifespan.

Sharing the importance of pollinators

Dave Clendenen, the Morro Coast Audubon Society’s Land Manager, hopes that the pollinator garden will inspire people to do their part to preserve and take care of the natural world. He says, “the priority for the project is providing habitat, but it also provides a place for people to come to nature, learn about nature, and foster nature. It works for the wildlife and it’s a great educational tool.”

Dave Clendenen helps plant the pollinator garden at Sweet springs
Dave Clendenen, land manager for the Morro Coast Audubon Society, worked with the CSLRCD to organize and host the volunteer planting event.

To make sure that the garden educates as much as it inspires, CSLRCD staff partnered with the Morro Coast Audubon Society and the Estuary Program to create an informational sign that will be installed near the garden. The sign highlights the role that monarch butterflies and other pollinators play in a healthy ecosystem.

Native pollinator sign
This informational sign explains the importance of native pollinators.

An abundance of flowers

CSLRCD staff planned the garden carefully, so that it includes plants that flower at different times. This ensures that pollinators can visit the garden and find nectar nearly year-round. Because of this, you’re likely to see brightly colored blooms almost anytime you visit Sweet Springs.

Curly leaf monardella
This curly-leaved monardella develops bright purple flowers between May and July.
flowering currant
This flowering currant blooms from January through May.

You can find directions to the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve and more information about the wildlife there on the Morro Coast Audubon Society’s website.

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