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Gainesville celebrates Pollinator Palooza: a community effort to save vital insects

Attendees gather information and native plants at the Florida Museum’s booth during the Pollinator Palooza event. (Courtesy of Florida Museum)
Attendees gather information and native plants at the Florida Museum’s booth during the Pollinator Palooza event. (Courtesy of Florida Museum)

In its second consecutive year, the Florida Museum of Natural History and First Magnitude Brewing Co. partnered for the annual Pollinator Palooza, a festive kickoff to National Pollinator Week.

The event transformed the brewery’s outdoor space into a vibrant haven for families, plant enthusiasts and conservation advocates, all united by a common goal: to celebrate and save the pollinators that keep our ecosystems thriving.

On Saturday, from 2 to 6 p.m., the air buzzed with excitement and the hum of conversations about bees, butterflies and other crucial pollinators. The first 300 attendees had the choice of a free native plant like a black-eyed Susan, blanketflower and rattlesnake master. These plants, carefully selected for their pollinator-friendly properties, quickly found new homes in the gardens of eager participants.

Scientists from the McGuire Center’s Daniels Lab, a research group specializing in the study of insect biodiversity and conservation, were on hand to showcase an array of live native insects, part of the Florida Museum’s “Science Up Close: Incredible Insects” exhibit.

Jaret Daniels, curator and program director at the McGuire Center, emphasized the importance of community involvement in conservation efforts.

“Over 85% of all flowering plants on the planet depend on animal pollinators,” Daniels said. “The majority of that is delivered by insects, so they're critical to our livelihood, our economy, our food security. Florida is a very agriculturally intensive state. Many crops like blueberries, watermelon and squash rely on pollinators.”

Native plants ready to be given away at the Pollinator Palooza event. (Courtesy of Florida Museum)
Native plants ready to be given away at the Pollinator Palooza event. (Courtesy of Florida Museum)

Last year, the Mcguire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, part of the Florida Museum of Natural History and dedicated to the study and conservation of butterflies and moths, began incentivizing planting by offering a free ticket to the butterfly rainforest for those who planted their native plants.

“It’s been wonderful to see the community’s enthusiasm and the impact of these initiatives,” said Kristin Rossetti, conservation coordinator at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.

“The main educational goals are really about understanding that these native plants are resources for our pollinators,” Rossetti continued. “They’re not just something pretty; a lot of people garden for aesthetics, and that's wonderful. But there's a much deeper value to selecting these plants.”

Local organizations, including the Florida Wildflower Foundation, Gainesville’s Bee City USA initiative and the Florida Native Plant Society set up booths providing information on how to support pollinator health and biodiversity.

“It was really crowded earlier. The line went all the way around the fence for the free plant giveaway,” Daniels said. “More community partners were involved this year, and people are increasingly aware of gardening for wildlife and pollinators. Combining that with an outdoor venue and a beer launch makes it a really social, fun event.”

The highlight for many was the opportunity to sample "Pollen Nation," a special hibiscus and lime lager brewed specifically for the event. Ten percent of the proceeds from this pollinator-themed beer went toward supporting imperiled butterfly recovery efforts in Florida.

Among the attendees was Adam Gayle, a Gainesville resident attending the event for the first time with his family.

“It was a fun opportunity to come outside to see some friends and learn things about pollinators,” Gayle said. He mentioned that his son enjoyed touching caterpillars, seeing grasshoppers and learning about local plants. “Any time you can do that and have a day with friends is a win.”

The Florida Museum announced two upcoming "Plant for Pollinators" events, where attendees can receive free native plants and learn about supporting pollinators. Scheduled for Aug. 3 at Mead Botanical Garden in Winter Park and Sept. 7 at the Alachua County Library District’s Millhopper Branch, both events will run from noon to 3 p.m.

Noelimary is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.