Friends, plants, and pollinators grow at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge garden
Inspired by the Service’s pollinator protection initiatives and a butterfly inventory in 2015, members of the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge formed a committee to begin work on establishing a pollinator garden at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. With a new headquarters administrative office site and acres of yard space surrounded by natural habitat, the Friends recognized an opportunity to simultaneously beautify the space, engage volunteers, educate guests, and add beneficial native plants for local pollinators. After consulting horticulturists and entomologists, the Friends sponsored the pollinator garden by purchasing soil, compost, native plants, melaleuca mulch, gardening tools, and snacks for volunteers.
The summer 2017 groundbreaking was twice postponed due to severe weather, including Hurricane Irma, which swept across the refuge. After the potted plants survived the hurricane in the refuge greenhouse, the garden team was thrilled to have the opportunity to plant.
After the first phase of the garden was established, two group work days and several individual volunteers were hosted in the garden. On September 8, 2018, during National Planting Day and nearly one year after Hurricane Irma, a team of volunteers spent another morning doubling the size of the garden for the first annual expansion planting. Returning volunteers were elated to see that summer rains turned the garden into a lush native landscape full of squirrel treefrogs, Gulf fritillary caterpillars and butterflies, and even a few black racer snakes.
More plants and more space will be added each year to keep the garden growing to its goal of one acre. Seventy-two volunteer hours and 14 native plant species later, Friends, volunteers, and visitors are eager to continue watching the garden grow.