Newsroom Midwest Region

Restoring wildlife habitat and traditional plants with the Oneida Nation

January 10, 2018

Clearwing hummingbird moth on wild bergamot. Photo by Mike Budd/USFWS.
Clearwing hummingbird moth on wild bergamot. Photo by Mike Budd/USFWS.

Over the past several decades, biologists from our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program have worked alongside the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin to establish wetland and native grassland habitat on tribally owned parcels of land. While the grasslands have increased habitat connectivity for pollinators, grassland birds and other wildlife, they also provide an additional benefit to the Oneida community.

“When we are planting native prairie, we use a diverse seed mixture of native wildflowers and grasses. That mixture often includes wild bergamot,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Reena Bowman. Bergamot is a well-known prairie plant that is easy to propagate, provides soil stabilization, fragrant flowers and a food source for pollinators.

Wild bergamot, also known as bee balm or monarda, has a long history of being an important plant to Native Americans, who recognize its healing elements and use it medicinally. It’s a strong antiseptic, used to alleviate stomach and bronchial ailments and treats headache and fever. European settlers also utilized bergamots healing benefits. They brewed the leaves into a refreshing aromatic and medicinal tea.

Bergamot is known in the Oneida community as “Number Six” because they say it was the sixth medicine given by the Creator to the people. According to tribal members, bergamot takes about four years from the time it is planted from seed, before it can be harvested without an impact. The Oneida Nation typically collects about 100 bundles of 30 plants, which are hung to dry and sold at the Oneida Market. The Oneida Market is part of a community food system which includes traditional food products and helps create a local economy that provides jobs, and promotes and encourages long term solutions to farm and nutrition issues on the Oneida Nation Reservation.

Bowman states that the native prairies, along with the adjacent forests and wetlands have truly benefited the community; economically, emotionally and environmentally. The areas also provide hunting opportunities for community members. Future land management activities include prescribed burns and planting milkweed to increase plant diversity and provide the host plant for the monarch butterfly.