Approximately 80 percent of flowering plant species depend on animal pollinators—primarily insects—to reproduce. Data collected by scientists around the globe indicate more than forty percent of pollinator populations may disappear within the next decade, a prediction driven primarily by habitat loss due to agricultural development, pesticide applications, and the pressures of climate change.
To help counter this threat locally, the Arboretum works systematically to address how the landscape contributes to the needs of native pollinators, insects, and birds. Part of the Weld Hill Solar Project is the creation of a pollinator meadow—the ground beneath the solar panels in the east array will be planted with a mix of wild, locally-collected native plants including grasses, graminoids (grass-like plants), and forbs (showy, broadleaf species). This managed, urban ecosystem will attract and benefit invertebrates and other wildlife as habitat to feed, mate, and sustain the next generation. It will also be the first of its kind in Massachusetts.
What’s unique about the Weld Hill Solar Meadow? In a typical solar meadow concept, the array is two-feet from the ground on the low edge, with six-and-a-half feet between panel rows. The Arboretum array was specially-designed to four feet from the bottom edge and eight feet between rows. The combination of increased height and wider space between panels means that more sunlight will be available to the plants, increasing the type and variety of species capable of flourishing around the array and providing more resources to pollinating insects. With permission granted by several area parklands and nature preserves, the Arboretum has been collecting plants to propagate for several meadow habitats in the Arboretum landscape including the solar meadow at Weld Hill. Above, Gardener Brendan Keegan collects a native prairie grass, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), at Bird Park in Walpole, MA.
Currently, the cultivation of the Weld Hill Solar Meadow is well underway, with an initial cover crop of partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) growing there to support pollinators and fix nitrogen to the soil. The action plan for the first two years involves collecting, propagating, and planting additional material for the solar meadow. Long-term maintenance of the area will require continuous monitoring, removing invasive plants, and mitigating soil compaction to promote a healthy and sustainable meadow habitat.