Working at the Dickinson County Nature Center, I often memorize fast facts to tell visitors about our different exhibits: butterflies can be as small as 1/8-inch to as large as 12 inches; most native bees have stingers too small to even penetrate human skin; about 4,000 species of bees native to the United States have been cataloged; 200 species have been found in Iowa alone.
There is much more information than I can spout off though, and you can read for yourself all about butterflies, bees and native plants at Dickinson County Conservation’s Pollinator Paradise.
Located in Kenue Park in Okoboji, Pollinator Paradise is a haven for all sorts of pollinators --- and for all the people who love them.
People walk off the paved bike trail, intrigued by the brightly-painted benches, pots of colorful annuals and gardens overflowing with native plant species, and they will get to enjoy the beauty of the area while learning a little at the same time.
Indoors are exhibits on butterflies, native bees, pollinator-friendly plantings, square foot gardening and insect metamorphosis. A butterfly enclosure houses monarch caterpillars that are collected by conservation board staff or are brought in by the public. These caterpillars are raised on milkweed --- the only plant they will eat --- and will then go into chrysalis and metamorphosis into adult monarchs. Those monarchs are then released into the wild to continue the next leg of the migratory journey.
Also inside the Pollinator Paradise building is a kids' area with puppets, magnifying glasses and books. The fun continues just outside with giant Jenga, sand pits and a small teepee.
Outside in Pollinator Paradise are examples of native and pollinator-friendly gardens as well as square-foot gardening. In 2014, the Dickinson County Conservation Board received a $6,200 grant from the Dickinson County Endowment Fund to expand the native gardens within Pollinator Paradise.
The project started with more than 900 native prairie plants --- about 50 different species --- being purchased, and Dickinson County Conservation staff and volunteers worked to plant them late in the summer of 2014. Each of the plants chosen for Pollinator Paradise were pollinator-friendly, offering either food or habitat for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Some species selected are not at first obviously helpful to pollinators, such as rattlesnake master, but the dried autumn stems of this plant are hollow and offer a spring nesting spot for native bees.
To help people identify plants as they walk through the gardens, metal plaques will be placed in groupings of each species with the common and scientific name of the plant, its bloom time and bloom color, what types of pollinators it benefits and an interesting fact about it. These will be out throughout each season.
Finally, the grant will fund the purchase of a shade structure in the garden area to make the area more comfortable during the summer.
The garden will show people what native plants look like and how they can easily be planted in their own backyards. Plus, a limited number of butterfly milkweed are for sale for $5 each inside the Dickinson County Nature Center to help people get started on their own native planting projects.
Regular operating hours of Pollinator Paradise are 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through the first Friday of September. For more information, visit the Dickinson County Conservation Board website or call 712-336-6352.