From the Field: Developing Pollinator Habitat

June 18, 2019
A native Ohio plant, butterfly milkweed attracts butterflies and is often utilized to enhance pollinator habitat. Photo credit: Gabriel Karns. Photo credit: Gabriel Karns

From the Field: Pollinator Habitat on Pipeline Rights-of-Way at Three Creeks Metro Park

Contributing author Gabriel Karns

A new underground pipeline installed last spring at the Three Creeks Metro Park and the disturbed soil on either side of the pipe zone presented a new partnership opportunity to do something beneficial for pollinators.

One way of benefiting pollinators is to focus on developing their habitat and in particular, monarch habitat. Monarch habitat consists of bio-diverse landscapes that contain milkweed and other native nectar and pollen sources, have a nearby water source, and are protected from disturbance factors such as untimely mowing. Habitat for monarchs also makes excellent habitat for other vital and diminishing species, including other native butterflies and bees, and migratory and ground-nesting birds.

The development of the pollinator habitat site at Three Creeks Metro Park is the result of a strong partnership between TransCanada, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, and the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) at The Ohio State University.

The collaborative project fits into Save Our Monarch’s Corridors for Pollinators program, which works with utility companies and other rights-of-way holders to manage assets as pollinator habitat while also taking care of business and regulatory needs.

Making a Difference for Pollinators - Developing Habitat on Pipeline Rights-of-Way

In November 2018, many hands made for light work as over a dozen individuals from Columbus Metro Parks, The Ohio State University, Save our Monarchs Foundation, and TransCanada assisted with the seeding of the site amidst unseasonably blustery and freezing temperatures.

Partners developed an ideal seed mix that quickly stabilized bare soil to prevent erosion and provide quality pollinator habitat in the long-term.  The custom seed mix consisting of 34 wildflower species and spanning a combined bloom window of April—October was blended by Conservation Blueprint


Lizzie Wilson, an environmental science major in the SENR helped with the initial rights-of-way seeding with partners at Three Creeks Metro Park. Photo credit: Emily Stibbs

Fast Forward to spring 2019: The Rights-of-Way is Fully Revegetated

Additional partners – Monarch Watch and Natives in Harmony – stepped in to give the site a boost with over 1,000 plugs of nearly 30 native species.  Undergraduate and graduate students working alongside Save Our Monarch’s Randall Gilbert and others used augers to get every single plug in the ground over two days last month. 

Undergraduate and graduate students working alongside Save Our Monarch’s Randall Gilbert and others used hand and cordless drill augers to place every single plug in the ground. Photo credit: Gabriel Karns

Gabriel Karns, one of the collaborating partners on the project and visiting assistant professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) emptying a flat of plugs. Photo credit: Randall GilbertEvan Amber, a SENR graduate student setting a native pollinator plant. Photo credit: Gabriel Karns

Tall Larkspur, a native plant that attracts all sorts of pollinators with its blue and purple blooms appearing in July and August was one of several types of plants planted on the rights-of-way at Three Creeks Metro Park. Photo credit: Gabriel Karns

Just as quickly as plugs get planted in the ground, browsing from wildlife like white-tailed deer and groundhogs can devastate an entire planting.  Not every single pollinator plant species is a choice morsel for mammalian herbivores, but enough are that precautions - such as panel fencing and crossing wires - should be installed when possible to discourage would-be pests.  Establishment is the most critical time period for long-term success, and plugs are most sensitive in their younger stages.

A deer exclosure was installed to ensure pollinator plant establishment and prohibit grazing on the plants. Photo credit: Gabriel Karns

Not even 24 hours after the final plug was covered in soil, spring rains drenched Columbus giving the plugs a great chance of accomplishing their mission!

Up Next:  On-going Monitoring and Evaluation

What makes this particular pollinator initiative especially exciting is the opportunity to monitor the site this initial growing season and next year during spring, summer, and fall. 

Lizzie Wilson, an environmental science major in the SENR and undergraduate honor’s student, will be a part of this monitoring and will collect data to determine which native plants in the seed mixture are successful, what quality of pollinator habitat is provided, and which native pollinators show up to utilize the resulting pollen, nectar, and host plant resources on site.  SENR faculty member Gabriel Karns will serve as Lizzie’s advisor and is excited for the near-campus opportunity for undergraduate involvement. 

The Three Creeks pollinator habitat site is a huge win for all involved—even as a relatively small-scale site, the plot has tremendous strategic importance as a high-visibility demonstration site as well as a testament to successful partner collaboration.

SENR From the Field stories are accounts of teaching, research and outreach authored by School of Environment and Natural Resources faculty, staff and students.