Volunteers Help Keep Greenwood As A Bee City Usa Partner

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — Rusty Wilson was lying down in the garden, peering up at the undersides of Milkweed leaves.

Wilson, a master gardener and horticulturist, retired as the state’s director of pesticide regulation from Clemson University. Now, he’s one of the volunteers who helps keep Greenwood a Bee City USA partner, five years after the city earned that distinction.

Bee City USA is a group dedicated to nurturing an environment that supports natural, local pollinators. Greenwood became a Bee City in 2017, and during a recent city council meeting Mayor Brandon Smith read a proclamation honoring the volunteers’ work.

“The volunteers have learned to do them and they’re telling their neighbors how to do them,” Barklow said. “And we’ve made not just a huge impact on pollinators, but on the comfort that we experience in the gardens.”

Before receiving the proclamation, Bee City volunteers gathered at a city garden to check for monarch butterfly eggs. As Wilson peered at the leaves and delicately moved new buds, his eyes were keenly looking for any sign of the butterflies’ tiny, pale eggs.

“It’s a citizen science project out of the University of Minnesota,” Wilson said. “It’s called the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project.”

Wilson and fellow master gardeners Ann Barlkow and Susu Wallace went to look for sign of the young insects. Greenwood started participating in the monarch count more than five years ago, and in 2017 Greenwood became a Bee City USA partner. That involves making commitments to nurture and care for the insects and animals that help transfer pollen from one plant to another.

Butterflies are reliable pollinators, and Barklow said they are in many places more prolific pollen spreaders than bees.

“They like to lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves,” she said.

Wilson explained that monarch butterfly larva will only eat milkweed, then showed how the plant gets its name. With a snap, he broke a leaf in half, revealing the “milk” within — a pearl-white, toxic sap in the leaf’s vein.

“What the larva are doing is eating a toxin within the sap, which they can digest into their body to make themselves distasteful to predators,” Wilson said.

Since becoming involved with Bee City USA, Greenwood has focused on planting native gardens and reclaiming public green spaces by growing pollinator-friendly gardens. Now, volunteers behind many of these efforts are focusing on ecological horticulture, which continues to take a holistic approach to supporting Greenwood’s natural environments with native plants, and insects.

It’s a program that has brought people together, too. Wallace, who was helping search for monarch eggs, said she found two eggs the first year she volunteered. She had joined the Lakelands Master Gardeners, but hadn’t been active for a while when Barklow invited her to join the master gardener.

“I’m retired, and I thought I wanted to volunteer,” Wallace said. “I feel passionate about conserving and protecting our native plants and critters.”