Before the 9 a.m. starting time, cars were already lined up on both sides of the gravel road that led down to the Audubon Nature Trails Center where the Annual Native Plant Sale, Birding and Pollinator Festival was in full swing on Saturday morning. The early-risers came to not only buy native plants to landscape their yards, but also to learn from the guided bird and wildflower nature walks and experts on hand to talk about beekeeping, other pollinators and native plants—all under a canopy of Ozark hardwoods.
Before the 9 a.m. starting time, cars were already lined up on both sides of the gravel road that led down to the Audubon Nature Trails Center where the Annual Native Plant Sale, Birding and Pollinator Festival was in full swing on Saturday morning. The early-risers came to not only buy native plants to landscape their yards, but also to learn from the guided bird and wildflower nature walks and experts on hand to talk about beekeeping, other pollinators and native plants—all under a canopy of Ozark hardwoods. It was a picture-perfect day to be in the tranquil woods, not more than two minutes from the S&T campus.
Ted Constantin and Curt Baumgartner from Doolittle Gardens were busy pointing out the special attributes of particular native plants to customers while identifying specimens in plastic sandwich bags that stumped homeowners. They had lots of one-gallon stock on hand for sale of everything from ironweed and coneflowers to milkweed.
To see wildlife, grow native
Susan Wrasmann of the Meramec Hills Chapter of Missouri Master Naturalists says the festival is all about promoting native plants for wildlife.
She says people don’t have to know anything about nature to enjoy the area. Volunteer Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners have incorporated all-weather signs chocked-full of information along the trails, so people can learn at their own speed from real-life plants, birds and insects in the different ecotype areas.
While there were bursts of color (primarily yellow, white and some purple), much of the landscape is maturing and it might be easy to dismiss native plants as just “weeds.” Susan points to a red-flowering plant called a “royal catch-fly.”
“If they look closely to an area that looks like weeds, they’ll see native grasses and tiny blooming plants that are [growing] close to the ground,” she explains. “All of those are important to wildlife—the insects that eat the native plants and the baby birds in springtime that eat nothing but insects. A clutch of chickadees can eat up to 500 caterpillars a day.”
The poster-child (or in this case, poster-insect) for the cause of landscaping with native plants is the monarch butterfly, whose numbers have decreased dramatically over the last 20 years, according to the group Missourians for Monarchs. The native plant family Apocynaceae includes a sub-family represented by milkweeds. They are the only plants on which monarch butterflies lay eggs and the only plant monarch caterpillars eat, says Susan.
“Seventy percent of all insects are specialists like that and they need our native plants,” she notes.
Missourians for Monarchs is a citizen-led initiative to address the decline of monarch butterflies through advocacy efforts to promote planting of native plants—in particular the milkweed species—the only food source for monarchs, according to Loretta McClure, who was answering questions about the group, along with Master Naturalist Rhoda Parker and Master Gardener-trainee Lynn Stichnote. Loretta noted the importance of Missouri as being in one of five migration flyways that monarchs pass through in springtime, or stay, to raise as many as five generations, before heading back to South-central Mexico where they overwinter.
Pam Barnaby, president of the local Paradoxa chapter Missouri Native Plants Society was leading a group on a wildflower tour, but Phelps County Master Gardener Edith Starbuck was fielding questions from interested festival visitors. Like the wisdom of some of the other Master Gardeners and Naturalists, she emphasized the symbiotic importance and specificity of native plants that are matched to the diets of insects here in the Ozarks. For those residents of Phelps County that want to see more birds in their yards, Edith says the key is to have native insects, “so, to attract all of those, you want to have native plants.”
She says a pink, showy hibiscus that a homeowner would buy at a big-box store will attract generalist insect species; but many insects need native plants. “They are not generalists,” she said.
A home made of cedar
Terry Bingham was on-hand to sell his cedar bluebird and wren houses, carpenter bee traps and the flat houses that appeal to mosquito-munching nocturnal bats. He’s retired and like many retirees, he had to find something that would get him out of bed in the morning.
“I was born at the feet of a woodworker,” explains Terry. “The sawdust and wood scrap piles were my toys.” As a young family man earlier in life, he found his talent for building with wood came in handy. Swing sets, a porch swing and picnic tables carved out his Saturday afternoon schedule. He’s been building bird houses for a decade.
“There’s a sense of pride that comes along with this,” he said. He finds a certain satisfaction knowing generations of birds will be raised because of his efforts and his customers commitment to provide for wildlife. Otherwise, cavity nesting birds and bats must rely on finding rotted wooden fenceposts, old growth timber and the woodpecker species that help create tree cavities for nesting places. His workshop is south of Rosati on KK.
Busy as bees
David Draker and Charlotte Ekker-Wiggins were present representing The Rolla Bee Club. Since many people have never seen a commercial bee hive, David set one up on the side of the booth (sans bees) and behind the bottles of honey that ranged in color from dark molasses to a lighter corn-oil-looking tint. David says the club gets many newbees that want to learn the basics, only to fly on their own, once they become familiar with beekeeping equipment and gain enough knowledge to understand the process of beekeeping. Unlike wild pollinators, David says, in a nutshell, beekeepers work with cultivated varieties of the insect to produce honey.
“We try to capitalize on the pollination effort [of the bees],” he said. They’re moved from place to place to get that pollination, in areas, where otherwise, they wouldn’t have it.” He gave an example of almond groves in California. “If you want pollination for blueberries, you can put a hive in,” he adds.
He gets a kick out of the different honey flavors bees can produce right in the town of Rolla and says some years—like this year, you can get honey two times from the hive (the honeycomb part of the hive is known as a super).
“This has been a great year for honey and bee production,” he said.
To learn more
The University of Missouri-Extension-led Master Gardener and Master Naturalist (with Missouri Department of Conservation) programs host a native plant sale in the fall and spring seasons with all of the educational opportunities for learning about nature and natural-plant landscaping.
Master Naturalist Susan Wrasmann said the Audubon Trails Nature Center is the perfect showroom to hold such a plant sale and to celebrate the diversity of our Ozark natural world. “There are over 70 acres of different types of habitat where people can learn about nature at their own speed,” she noted. “It’s a gem, right here in Rolla.”
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