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UNT students and professors break ground on the ‘pollinative’ prairie

UNT students and professors break ground on the ‘pollinative’ prairie

Large sheets of black plastic cover the ground at the site for a new sustainability project for student research, called "Pollinative Prairie". The plastic is a solarizing method that prevents photosynthesis and burns up the non-native bermuda grass on the plot, to clear the way for planting Texas native plants. PC: Katie Jenkins

UNT students and professors break ground on the ‘pollinative’ prairie
July 25
19:52 2017

Bye-bye Bermuda grass, hello bees.

Members of the UNT biology department, along with the We Mean Green fund, have broken ground on a pollinative prairie, serving the natural and educational ecosystem at Discovery Park.

The pollinative prairie project will repurpose a four-acre lot surrounding UNT’s satellite research facility from its current grass-filled form into a prairie filled with plants and flowers native to the North Texas area.

“Before humans came, the North Central Texas area was covered in native tallgrass prairie systems that were a really great habitat for birds and insects,” said Jamie Baxter-Slye, a UNT environmental science professor. “That’s why we’re trying to do this. We’re just trying to reconstruct a piece of that.”

Baxter-Slye and UNT alumna Jen Bailey are spearheading the project with support from the We Mean Green Fund and UNT students.

Bailey proposed the project over a year ago and expects to see the first acre of the pollinative prairie completed by September—just in time for the monarch butterfly migration.

“The migrating monarchs bottleneck right over North Texas—they get concentrated right here,” Bailey said. “But what did we do? We put these big corporate landscapes that look cool and you can play football on it.”

Now, Bailey and the rest of the team members who are working on the project are filling what was once uniform grass with over 20 species of plants and grasses. The prairie will contain prairie grasses, sunflowers, Indian blankets and milkweed flowers — a plant vital to the survival of monarch butterflies.

Baxter-Slye said suburban sprawl and urbanization has eliminated vital resources for bugs and birds native to the North-Texas area. Because of this, the bird, butterfly and bee populations have all been affected.

“Native bee population is on the decline because of habitat destruction and loss of flowering plants,” Baxter-Slye said. “That’s what we’re trying to fix here.”

The prairie will provide an important food source for pollinators, like monarch butterflies and bees. Additionally, the prairie will demand less water than its Bermuda grass counterpart.

The group hopes efforts like the pollinative prairie will catch on and quell the trend of planting foreign grasses that yield little benefit to the surrounding ecosystem.

The pollinative prairie will provide a variety of plants and resources that will hopefully set an example for other fields and yards throughout Denton.

“These [plants] don’t require any additional water,” Baxter-Slye said. “They are native, drought tolerant tall-grass plants that are pretty and don’t require irrigation systems to maintain. I think everybody’s front yard should look like this.”

Beyond serving the birds and the bees, the prairie will nurture the educational ecosystem for UNT students, as well.

Gary Cocke, UNT’s Sustainability Coordinator and We Mean Green Fund administrator, has been involved with various sustainability projects at UNT, including the inception of the community garden and the university’s efforts to run off 100 percent renewable energy.

Although he’s seen many projects come to life all over Denton, the pollinative prairie provides new opportunities for the university and its students.

“[The pollinative prairie] ranks right up there — it’s one of the most impactful projects we’ve done,” Cocke said. “What I like about is how it provides a service to the environment and also creates learning opportunities for ecology students.”

The pollinative prairie will provide UNT with an official outdoor classroom like the ones Baxter-Slye and Bailey found so useful and fascinating when they were growing up.

Baxter-Slye, who was brought on due to her role as the instructional lab supervisor of the biological sciences department, said students have already logged over 400 service hours working on the prairie, transforming plots of uniform grass surrounding the facility with wild flowers and plants.

Students will also track the progress of the prairie quantitatively by measuring the water required to maintain the plots as well as the biodiversity of the prairie compared to surrounding fields of grass.

“It’s a great outdoor classroom,” Baxter-Slye said. “It will help students learn and it will help our native ecosystem thrive.”

Featured Image: Large sheets of black plastic cover the ground at the site for a new sustainability project for student research, called “Pollinative Prairie”. The plastic is a solarizing method that prevents photosynthesis and burns up the non-native bermuda grass on the plot, to clear the way for planting native Texas plants. Katie Jenkins

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Austin Jackson

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