Volunteers expand preserve’s pollinator gardens for Earth Day

Volunteers from all across the university came to the FIU Nature Preserve April 21 to release pollinators, such as the painted lady butterfly pictured above, into the preserve’s newly expanded pollinator gardens.

By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17 

In celebration of Earth Day, the FIU community came together for several different events to help make the university a little greener and more beautiful.

On Apr. 21, dozens of students, staff, faculty and community members volunteered at the FIU Nature Preserve, helping expand the preserve’s pollinator gardens, then releasing native pollinators – including lady bugs, caterpillars and butterflies – into the newly planted gardens.

The volunteers grabbed shovels and planted dozens of new plants – such as milkweeds that act as a host for monarch butterflies and the coontie palm – along the jogging trail on the south side of the preserve that will attract pollinators that play a key role in the reproduction of flowering plants and in the production of most fruits and vegetables.

“It was a great day to give back to the earth and celebrate that we live in a great place,” says Alexandra Dutton ’09, MBA ’15, the sustainability manager for the Office of University Sustainability.  “It’s great that the university has a preserve that is a great place to come and get back in touch with nature, especially in an urban environment like Miami.”

In the weeks and months to come, volunteers will be able to return to the preserve and see how their plants have grown and witness a boom in the population of butterflies and other insects.

Students planted different species of plants to expand the preserve’s pollinator gardens along the  jogging path.

“The most rewarding part was being able to be the change here at FIU,” said junior environmental studies major Rolando Martinez, who volunteered during the morning planting session. “The preserve is such an important part of FIU and it’s important to keep it maintained. I can’t wait to come back and see all the work we did come to fruition.”

A pollinator is an animal that causes plants to make fruit or seeds by moving pollen from one part of the flower of a plant to another part. This pollen then fertilizes the plant, which allows it to produce fruit and seeds. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, animals such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds pollinate more than 75 percent of the flowering plants, and nearly 75 percent of crops, in the United States.

Senior Johnny Iglesias, a urban green space intern majoring in sustainability and the environment, says these pollinators play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity within the Nature Preserve’s ecosystem, which includes an organic garden that produces a wide array of fruits, vegetables and other plants.

“On a university campus where we’re busy studying and faculty are busy with students, it’s nice to see them come out here and volunteer or to just relax and enjoy the environment,” Iglesias said.

At the Pollinator Release Party, organized by the Office of University Sustainability, volunteers released approximately 3,000 ladybugs; 48 butterflies of a wide variety of species, including the popular tiger swallowtail and zebra longwing; and roughly a dozen caterpillars.

This is the third consecutive year the university has hosted a volunteer event to expand the preserve’s pollinator gardens in honor of Earth Day, a tradition the university hopes to continue in the years to come.

RELATED: How to build your own butterfly garden


Happy Earth Day! 🌎

Enjoy the views from our FIU GoGreen Pollinator Release Party. 🐛🐞

Posted by Florida International University on Saturday, April 22, 2017



Off campus, students and staff from the School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) visited Sweetwater Elementary School to read “One Night in the Everglades.” The children’s book follows two scientists as they collect water samples, photograph wildlife, and slosh through marshes to understand what the mysterious ecosystem was like before human settlement.

Helping to bring ecological science to life, the book was written by Laurel Larsen of the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with Rudolf Jaffe, researcher in the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research (FCE LTER) Program housed at FIU.

The outreach event expanded FIU’s ongoing partnership with the elementary school by engaging more than 740 students in Pre-K through fifth grade.

Students and staff helped clean marine debris at the Red Mangrove habitat located at Biscayne Bay Campus.


Throughout the community, Earth Day activities continued well into the weekend. On April 22, SEAS hosted more than 100 volunteers from Miami-Dade County government at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus. As part of Baynanza 2017, they cleaned marine debris and celebrated Biscayne Bay as one of South Florida’s most important ecosystems.

On April 23, SEAS staff and student volunteers also participated in the Town of Surfside’s Earth Day Resource Fair. Children from the community enjoyed touch tanks, handling urchins and other marine invertebrates found in Biscayne Bay. Phytoplankton stations allowed them to observe and draw algae and other marine organisms from under a microscope.

On Earth Day and throughout the year, outreach events like these help the university translate science into community education and environmental stewardship.

Evelyn Gonzalez contributed to this story