Sometimes it’s important to pause and appreciate the details of your surroundings. One of the natural green spaces on campus is also one of the busiest. The tallgrass “prairie in progress” in front of the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center is full of thriving flowering plants and grasses that promote biodiversity.
Still coming into its own, the prairie was planted three years ago. It will take up to five years to mature. Among the native plants are goldenrod, coneflowers, and mint. In addition to flowers that blossom in a range of colors, the blooming prairie is home to an active and growing community of insects. There are abundant native bees including bumble bees, twice-stabbed stink bugs, red-legged grasshoppers, ladybird beetles, wood ants, garden spiders, and a variety of birds.
Colby planted the prairie to contribute to campus sustainability efforts. Instead of planting sprawling lawns that require fertilizer, mowing, and maintenance, Colby opted for native plants and grasses that promote biodiversity.
This is important for a number of reasons. The first is that for the past four years scientists have documented the widespread long-term decline of insects across the world. The so-called “insect apocalypse” is becoming catastrophic because insects provide so much in terms of pollination services, decomposition, soil aeration, and other benefits. The second issue involves a sense of place. One of the attractions of the Colby campus is its natural beauty, and the native prairies that Colby is encouraging foster biological diversity and promote Maine’s natural landscape and aesthetics.
“It’s really important that powerful institutions lead by example, and this is a small and important thing that Colby is doing,” said Chris Moore, assistant professor of biology.
The College has continued this natural landscaping approach at the newly opened Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, where more than 8,000 plants went into the ground this summer.