There is a lovely wetland wildflower meadow along a backstreet in our small Ozark town. The road cuts away from the main highway and skirts the edge of town along the base of a mountainside where the slope begins to flatten to form the White River Valley. Water seeps from underground and forms moist, rich meadows of an acre or more.
Because I like to spot wildflowers in the wetland meadow I get off the highway to take this backstreet, away from the traffic, to ease home quietly, enjoying whatever nature presents itself in the ten minutes or so it takes to get through town. This wildflower meadow is one of the regular highlights.
This time of year—September—the meadow is resplendent with moisture-loving wildflowers: swamp milkweed, beggarticks, great blue lobelia, boneset and the like. Interestingly, it is not dominated–as the other fields are–with nonnative species like tall fescue or Johnson grass or the rampant hairy buttercup (a sure sign of overgrazing). Unlike those other fields, this one is a bustling metropolis populated with pollinators of all kinds: butterflies, bees, wasps, beetles, flies, and hummingbirds.
Paying a visit to this wildflower meadow in early fall is to witness the migration of monarch butterflies on their way to Central Mexico. We spot at least three on this visit. Perhaps these individuals were reared right here in this meadow, chewing the swamp milkweed leaves for both sustenance and for the protective poison—the cardiac glycosides (steroids) contained in the white sap of the milkweed leaves.
Or did these monarchs fly, float, and sail down from some meadow in Minnesota or Manitoba and we are just a refueling station here on their way to Mexico? Sort of a monarch Exxon station.
Whoever owns this meadow has allowed it to grow up to its full potential of beauty and service to the pollinators, instead of grazing it heavily like many of the surrounding pastures in this valley. Of course, the value of a mature wildflower meadow goes far beyond that. For with pollinators come the birds that feed their young on those insects. And all these pollinated plants are producing wildflower and grass seeds which will sustain young birds for their own migration south as well as those who overwinter here.
With so much of this countryside covered either in forest, tall fescue pasture–or asphalt–this wildflower meadow is an ecological paradise to the critters that find and utilize it. And let’s not forget the insects, mollusks, dragonflies, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals common to any wetland habitat, including the pond that it all empties into across the road.