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Summer outing series: Rediscover nature at the Pollinator Prairie

During our Summer Outing Series, join us as we explore local family-friendly outings for summer fun.

By Ginny Varraveto, contributed by Johnson County Extension

Summertime officially arrives on June 20, and in Kansas City that means it’s time to play outside. It’s a season to open the senses and experience the joys of nature. But when was the last time you paused to pet a caterpillar or watch a fuzzy bumblebee bob from bloom to bloom?

Activities, to-do lists, and the ever-increasing pull of screens make it difficult to slow down and take notice of the natural world.

On Friday, June 21, the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Master Naturalists invite the public to experience the “wonders of discovery” at the Pollinator Prairie in Olathe. The annual Wonders of Discovery event celebrates National Pollinator Week and is an opportunity for kids and adults alike to learn, explore and play.   

Mounds of purple poppy mallow greet visitors at the entrance to the Pollinator Prairie. A paved walkway winds along four semi-formal gardens that make up the site. Each garden reveals native prairie plants in a stunning variety of shapes and colors. From sunny faces of coreopsis to spiny heads of purple coneflower, the gardens’ beauty and diversity also serve a purpose: to attract and support different types of pollinators.

The event on June 21 will feature immersive activities and hands-on games for kids as well as engaging material and resources for adults. Some highlights among the more than 20 exhibitions planned include Caterpillar Wonders, Operation Wildlife, Monarch Watch, What’s the Buzz about Native Bees, and Climate Awareness in Nature.  

Visitors can form new connections to local flora and fauna with the guidance of Extension Master Naturalists and other experts presenting at the event. It’s a chance to learn why pollinators matter and to meet some of these fascinating creatures in person.

Exploration is encouraged at the Pollinator Prairie

A bee visits foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) at the Pollinator Prairie. Bees dive headfirst into these tubular flowers to collect pollen and nectar.  Photo by Ginny Varraveto.

Venture onto one of the woodchip paths that meander through each garden and discover something unexpected.

See that tiny green fly circling around purple tutus of prairie clover? It’s actually a bee—one of the smallest native bees and one of 36 different native bee species identified at the Pollinator Prairie during a 2022-2023 bee survey.

Notice the spiky tops of coneflower that resemble little hedgehogs? Those are the flowers’ seed heads and a favored snack of goldfinches. Interestingly, birds that visit the garden can be pollinators too. 

Catch the scent of something like lilacs drifting in the breeze? It’s the sweet, surprising aroma of common milkweed, which attracts not only Monarch butterflies but also many bees and other beneficial insects.

There is no better way to learn about and appreciate nature than to get up close and observe. The bees and butterflies won’t be the only ones buzzing at the Pollinator Prairie on June 21. Everyone is invited to share in the excitement, ask questions and get inspired.

The free Wonders of Discovery event will be held Friday, June 21 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Pollinator Prairie, 320 S. Blake St., Olathe, KS. 

To learn more, visit johnson.k-state.edu.

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