Biodiversity Returns

Emily Dvorak

In a time when our world around us seems to be following the theme of reduction, life is booming on the south end of the University of Northern Iowa’s campus. For the last two years, University grounds keeping has not sprayed this part of campus (insert exact range). In just two short years, what once was lost has returned: at least 4 different kinds of clover and birdsfoot trefoil. 

Birdsfoot trefoil is a herbaceous perennial legume. As a legume, this mighty plant supplies essential nitrogen back into our soils, and as a perennial with branching roots, its ability to hold water and soil in place is powerful, making it a highly effective cover crop. The other various types of clover share similar properties to the birdsfoot trefoil. Clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant, making synthetic fertilization unnecessary when incorporated into a lawn. It is also drought-tolerant, so even in these scorching summer weeks, its unashamed green color shines through.

While I sat admiring this breadth of life, numerous tiny bees and other pollinators constantly and diligently visited the plants within the beautiful bounty of diversity. Some people may see the clover as invasive weeds and the pollinators as pesky bugs, but experiencing their world up close, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Their humble presence exudes generosity, giving essential nutrients to the soil, sources of nourishment for the pollinators, and in turn those pollinators being the foundation of our food chain. Giving an enriched visual appeal through pops of color in the landscape. They give us a return on our finances, keeping us from having to continually invest our dollars year after year to ensure that the only color we see is green and the only soil benefit we see is nonexistent

By not spraying the lawn, more life has returned to campus. There is more habitat to support that life. There is no worry of toxins leaching into the earth. There is no fear of chemical exposure. There is simply a gentle spirit of timelessness, shaped like a fuzzy little oval, steadily bobbing from flower to flower.

Emily Dvorak is the Good Neighbor Iowa Program Manager at the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa.