Years ago, this patch of land, like hundreds of other easements and grassy islands in the city, might have been mowed frequently. Now, it is a riot of flowers, weeds, vines and the insects that keep the whole ecosystem thriving, the pollinators.
Hashim and Cameron Devitt want to know which bugs are visiting which flowers. That might seem fairly basic, but the flowers’ growth is staggered throughout the spring and summer, and the mix of insects is continually changing too, so the team visits the same field every two weeks. Today, bluebonnets are long gone, and fire wheels are on their way out, but the bull nettle, Mexican hats, thistles and morning glory are going strong.
The pollinators at work today include bumblebees, butterflies and red wasps. “I have been surprised in the variety of pollinators I’ve found, including a fly that mimics the look of a bee,” says Hashim. Jennings concurs. “I was surprised that it was not just bees doing the pollinating. There were flies and ants and other insects that I did not expect.” There are about a dozen flowers and a dozen dominant pollinators rotating through this patch of land, so the team is tracking about 144 potential “connections” — call them mutual friends — in nature’s social network.
Frequent mowing prevents flowers from blooming at all, but occasional mowing does serve an important purpose in the natural order, says Cameron Devitt. In intact grasslands, grazers and wildfires reset the ecosystem by ridding it of dead plant matter and giving new plants a shot. Mowing provides a similar benefit. Knowing more about the seasonal changes in blossoms and pollination could help answer such basic questions as when to mow.