The midsummer morning dew covered the green meadow grass with a transparent layer of condensation. In the light before sunrise the green grass appeared to be covered with a dull silver wash.
I was making a morning pilgrimage to an isolated jumble of trumpet vine in hope of capturing hummingbird images.
The freshly made trail of an animal, passing through the tall grass, caught my attention. Its fur wiped off the droplets of moisture clinging to the meadow grass. The image was that of a long single brush stroke of dark emerald green overlaying a dominant pewter green tinted background.
In the distance near the trumpet vine I saw a fox repeatedly bounce in the air as if on a trampoline. I edged closer hoping for a better view with binoculars.
The fox sat up and turned its attention to the tangle of vines covered with large trumpet shaped orange flowers.
As if out of curiosity the young fox stretched forward and sniffed among the vines and actually stuck its nose up one of the flowers. A closer look revealed a smudge of orange pollen on the tip of the fox’s wet black nose!
I knew what to look for or I would never have noticed the telltale pollen dust. Whenever I identified a flower for my daughter, she instinctively held the flower to her nose. The weaker the scent the closer to their nose it was placed. Curiosity then demanded another flower be sniffed in comparison to the first. Inevitably she would comment on the scent totally unaware the tip of her nose was smeared with bright colored pollen. In doing so, genetic material from one flower was transferred to another in an act of incidental pollination by a pollinator in disguise!
Flowers have evolved along with primary pollinators for mutual benefit. The flower’s structure provides an ergonomic accommodation resulting in an automatic pollen dispenser. This is essentially a primitive method of artificial insemination, where genetic material is collected from one individual and dispensed to another.
When we think of pollinators, honeybees and butterflies first come to mind. There are however, scores of other insect pollinators along with highly adapted birds, hummingbirds being a prime example. Bats and orioles are also listed as pollinators.
Primary pollinators and flowers have developed unique structures that fit together perfectly to serve the needs of both.
Bees have pollen baskets on the side of their legs while hummingbirds have the ability to hover motionless over a delicate stemmed flower and feed by way of a highly adapted beak and tongue, avoiding damage to their food source.
Flowers use color, shape and placement of reproduction structures to accommodate specific pollinators. Flat faced zinnias are perfect for bees and butterflies while the cone shaped flowers of trumpet vines are best suited for the long thin probing beaks of hummers. Specificity and dependence between species in nature often comes with a price. Where major crops like blueberries are grown, a die off of honey bees will result in a poor harvest. In this case, the relationship between pollinator and flower expands to include agriculture, economics, commerce and consumers.
The beauty of flowers extends to their adaptability to recruit incidental pollinators. When a non targeted pollinator, fox or human, walks though a field of flowers, pollen will collect on fur or clothing and brush off on other flowers. Not an efficient method of genetic transfer, but some pollination will occur.
If the inquisitive fox were to sniff another trumpet vine bloom, genetic transfer would be complete. That flowers can use a fox to transport pollen makes one wonder if an argument could be made that flowers are an intelligent life-form.
Consider that flowers are living things that in some magical way recruited man to further their propagation in exchange for a glimpse of eternal beauty, dreams and imagination to expand the universe of human potential with unbounded creativity and expression.
Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.
BECAUSE OF FREEZING TEMPERATURES THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED
Join the LRWP and Kim’s Bike Shop as we plant trees and pollinator plants – seeds of hope – in honor of Martin Luther King Day and the kick-off to Windows of Understanding 2019.
Participants will be able to take their seedlings home with them.
The event will include a chance to meet sculpture artist Olga Mercedes Bautista, who has partnered with the LRWP to create sculptures of trees made from plastic found at stream clean-ups and other events.
Location: Kim’s Bike Shop / 111 French St, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Time: Monday January 21, 10-11:30 AM
Windows of Understanding is presented in collaboration by the New Brunswick Community Arts Council, Mason Gross School of the Arts, and the Highland Park Arts Commission. Leadership support of the second annual Windows of Understanding Project is provided by a Community-University Research Partnership Grant for New Brunswick awarded by the Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation at Rutgers University.
Rutgers Raritan Scholars Interns Justin So and Allie Oross join New Brunswick Environmental Commission Chair Erin Connolly to hand out milkweed seeds at the New Brunswick Food Forum
On a bright morning at 10 AM in the hallways of A. Chester Redshaw Elementary School, tables from multiple community groups lined the halls in anticipation of the 7th Annual New Brunswick Food Forum organized by the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance (NBCFA). Most of the interest groups were related to food and health within the local community and, as the first visitors started to file in, it was evident that these were topics of both concern and interest. Soon the hallways were bustling with adults and children alike from the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) table was promoting the importance of pollinator plants (plants that attract pollinator species) as we handed out milkweed seeds and vegetable seedlings. Children could choose to plant their own milkweed seed at one of our tables and many of them enjoyed the opportunity to get their hands dirty.
Pollinators are animals that assist in the fertilization of plants by transferring pollen from the male anatomy of the flower to the female parts. Pollinators can include bees, butterflies, bats, and birds and are essential for plant biodiversity. The number of pollinators in an area has a direct and positive correlation with the general health of an ecosystem. When these biotic vectors rifle around within the flower looking for nectar, pollen gets stuck to their legs or bodies and when they go to the next flower they take that pollen with them. This allows for diverse genotypes within plant populations that would not be seen without the assistance from pollinators.
The LRWP’s goal in handing out milkweed was not only to encourage an increase in pollinator populations in our urban community, but to also increase public awareness and involvement. We asked that people tend to their milkweed plant and watch it grow for two months, then join us and the New Brunswick Environmental Commission for a “pollinator planting day” on Sunday June 17. At that time the plan is to plant the milkweed seedlings and other pollinator plants in New Brunswick’s Buccleuch Park Pollinator Garden. Though most of the people who visited our table were initially unsure what a pollinator was, many took an interest in the health of our environment and were enthusiastic about the prospect of taking an active role in its prospective remediation.
The ability of our environment to efficiently and cohesively function is of drastic importance to every single person that lives within it. Conveniently enough, that same environmental ability depends mostly on the decisions made and actions taken by our very own species.
As Earth day rolls around, it is vital that we reflect on anthropogenic interference in nature and take responsibility for the consequences of over-development and urbanization. If most of the damage to the planet is caused by humans, then it is a logical conclusion that humans also possess the solution. Events like the Food Forum that engage community education and interaction are integral for the remediation of our planet and decreasing the prevalence of apathy and ignorance within our population.
Brielle Tiger, an 8th grade Girl Scout Cadette, recently installed a pollinator garden in Middlesex County’s Johnson Park as part of her Girl Scout Silver Award. Brielle has been a Girl Scout for seven years. She lives in New Jersey with her parents, brother, two cats and one dog. She loves eating the vegetables from her small family garden.
As a Cadette Girl Scout, I have the opportunity to earn the Silver Award, the second highest award in Girl Scouts. To earn this award, the project I choose needs to benefit my community, take at least fifty hours to complete, be sustainable, and be something I care about. For the past several years, our family garden has not had as many vegetables as there used to be even though we had the same number of plants. On the news they show that bee colonies are dying and butterfly populations are decreasing. Could the decrease of these pollinators be affecting the growth in my garden? That is when I came up with the idea of planting a pollinator garden. I decided to start researching pollinator gardens and visited some local gardens to get ideas for this new project. I then contacted the Middlesex County Parks Department. I spoke with Eric and Scott, and they both loved the idea of a pollinator garden in Johnson Park.
After meeting several times, we decided to plant the garden in a swale area, just over the bridge from East Jersey Olde Town. This was very new to me, since a swale is very wet soil and the banks are dry soil. I contacted Michele, who works in the Environmental and Resource Management at Rutgers and Heather with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, for advice on getting plants for a pollinator garden in a swale. They gave me a lot of information on how to plant the garden, how to care for the plants, and what nurseries could provide plants for me.
I used the information Michele and Heather gave me to put together a diagram of the garden and contacted some nurseries to see if they would donate plants for my cause. Two of the nurseries, Pinelands Nursery and New Moon Nursery, both in New Jersey, were kind enough to supply enough plants for my entire garden.
With my garden being 10ft x 20ft , it was recommended that I plant two hundred plants in my garden to help with weed control. Some of the flowers were Fox Sage, Black Eyed Susan, Orange Coneflower, and New York Aster. Now that I knew what plants will be donated and planted in my garden, I needed to find a deer fence. Johnson Park has many deer, so I wanted to make sure they did not eat my plants. This turned out harder than I thought. I asked several local hardware stores for donations, and none of them responded. So I decided to go online and find places that sold deer fence and were still close to New Jersey. This time when I asked, I asked for a discount on the items needed. Benner’s Garden in Pennsylvania responded and they said that they would give me a discount on the deer fence and donate other needed supplies.
Now it’s time to set planting day and find volunteers. Planting day was scheduled on May 22, and many family members, friends, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts came out to help. Thirty people came out to help plant my pollinator garden. We had to get the grass and dirt out of the swale, prepare the soil, put up the fence, plant the flowers, water the flowers, and enjoy some hot dogs for lunch! It took almost the whole day to complete, but the garden looked great and it was definitely worth all the work.
A few days later, I came back to the garden to put down mulch and pull some weeds. I go back often to water it, and watch how the plants grow in size. I know in the fall, I will have to clean out the garden when all the plants die. In the spring I will have to probably put down more mulch, pull weeds and water again. Hopefully with the plants being close together and being bigger next year, there will be more weed control in my garden. Also, the fact that it is located in a swale, my watering it could be less often, depending on the weather.
With the flowers blooming, it is awesome to see! I’ve seen a few butterflies and tons of bees, which is a great sight. Doing this was a perfect project and something that other communities should also consider. I would suggest contacting the Middlesex County Parks Department and the Environmental and Resource Management at Rutgers. They give great advice on planting native pollinator gardens.
At the time that I’m writing this, the tomato plants in my family garden has given us an extremely large amount of tomatoes! Hopefully our other plants will do the same next year because there will be more pollinators.