Plants for Our Pollinators

New York State Parks is abuzz with excitement for pollinators.  From June 20-26, we celebrate both National Pollinator Week and New York State Pollinator Awareness Week.  Our local bees, butterflies, moths, birds and other pollinators are to thank for most of the food we eat, as well as for many of the trees and flowers we enjoy every day.  As these animals go from flower to flower to drink nectar, they accidentally carry sticky pollen from the anthers to the stigma, the male and female parts of flowers.  This fertilizes the eggs, which grow into seeds and fruits that we enjoy.

One of the ways you can show appreciation for these fantastic pollinators is to get out to natural areas in State Parks and enjoy the native flora.  You can also explore native plant gardens and learn more about using native plant species in your own backyard to attract pollinators.  Last year we paid homage to a few of our favorite New York pollinators.  This year, let’s have a closer look at some of the plants and the pollinators that visit them.

Just as pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, so too do the native plants that they enjoy.  Different plants attract different types of pollinators.  Look for all kinds of flowers in the woods, wetlands, meadows, gardens or orchards and you are apt to see some pollinators at work.  Below are some of the native pollinators and flora found in State Parks, with photos from the NY Natural Heritage Program.   NYNHP works in partnership with State Parks (OPRHP) to assess and conduct inventories of natural areas in state parks and helps to protect habitats that support common and rare species alike, including these important pollinators.

Cutleaf toothwort
Pollinators emerge as soon as there is nectar available for them to feed on. This native wildflower, cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), was blooming the first week of April. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.
Pink Lady Slipper
Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) bloom in June and are pollinated by various kinds of bees. Photo by T. Howard, NYNHP.
wild geranium
A Juvenal’s duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis) feeds on wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), a common native wildflower of woods and openings. Photo by K. Perkins, NYNHP.
Azure Butterfly
The more showy spring azure butterfly emerges early in the spring and can be seen flitting about sunny trails and open areas. Photo by M. Adamovic for NYNHP.
Goldenrod
Bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are one of the most effective pollinators. You can see how the pollen sticks to its fuzzy body as this bee feeds on the nectar of this native goldenrod. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.
Ragwort
A Pearl crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) feeds on ragwort (Packera aurea) that grows along river shores and wet areas. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.
Bedstraw
Moths help pollinate too. Though most moths prefer night, this one is a daytime moth, seen here feeding on bedstraw (this one is non-native, but we have some native bedstraws too) and moving the pollen around in the process. Look for this native moth, the Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica) in meadows with flowers from May to July. The caterpillars feed on grasses, so unmown meadows can provide everything this moth species needs year-round. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP.
NE Aster
In late summer and fall, the bright colors of asters and goldenrods are especially attractive to bees and many other insects. The native New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) blooms from August to September. This one is being visited by the Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens). There are many species of bumblebees, but this one is by far the most common in the state, so the one you are most likely to see. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP

Whether you are a hiker, gardener, farmer, or food-lover you can enjoy and support our local pollinators!  Maintaining natural areas, meadows or gardens with a variety of plants can help to sustain all the life stages of a wide range of insects from bees to butterflies.

If you are interested in creating a backyard oasis for native pollinators, look for plants that are native to your area of the state and, if possible, grown near where you live.  Consider planting different types of flowers; gardens with an array of flowers blooming at different times provide food for a variety of pollinators throughout the season.  Look for white, yellow or blue flowers to attract bees.  Red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds (bees don’t even see red).  Butterflies prefer bright flowers, particularly reds, oranges, and purple (like fall asters).  Moths are attracted to white, purple, or pink flowers with strong, sweet scents, especially those emitting a scent at night.  See resources below on pollinators and native plants in your area.

State Parks is celebrating pollinators at these events across the state:

Clay Pit Ponds State Park – Time Tuesdays, June 21 @ 10am

Learn about our native pollinators by making crafts, playing games, and socializing with other toddlers! Parent or care giver is required to stay. Ages 1-3 (flexible).  Please call (718) 605-3970 ext 201 for more information.

Saratoga Spa State Park – Butterfly Walk Friday, June 24 @2:00pm

Did you know restoring a habitat is like building a neighborhood?  Come enjoy a light hike at the Karner Blue site and learn what butterflies live in the same neighborhood as the Karner Blue butterfly.  Please wear hats and sunscreen.  You may want to bring binoculars or a magnifying glass to see butterflies up close.  This program is appropriate for ages 7 and up.  Registration is required.  Please call 518-584-2000 ext. 122. This program is free.

Thacher Nature Center – Honeybees Are Buzzin’, June 25 @ 2pm

Summertime brings flowers and a hive packed with activity! Come and learn all about honeybees as you view the colony in our indoor observation hive. See the busy workers, the specialized drones and the ever-important queen bee in action! Learn how to dance like a bee, and view the world from a bee’s perspective. Afterwards, take a walk to observe our honeybees at work in the gardens. Please register by calling 518-872-0800.

Letchworth State Park – Butterfly Beauties, June 26 @ 2pm

Study the beauty and composition of hundreds of dried butterfly specimens representing most of the world’s butterfly families. Dozens of local and New York species, as well as those found in the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, are specially noted. Butterfly structure and local natural history will be featured in two new butterfly videos. This is an excellent primer for the Butterfly Walk on July 9th. (Look for details in the upcoming summer issue of The Genesee Naturalist.) All workshops meet in the Conference Room in the Visitor Center and Regional Administration Building located in Letchworth State Park.  Please call (585) 493-3680 for more information.

Ganondagan State Historic Site – Planting for Ethnobotany Workshop Saturday, August 6, 2016 @9:00am-11:00am

Participants will help plant native plants in the Green Plants Trail and the Pollinator Grassland at Ganondagan.  Ages 8 and up. Registration Required.  Please call (585) 924-5848 for more information.

For more about pollinators and native plantings:

 General Information

Confronting the Plight of  Pollinators

Gardening and pollinator information

— New York’s famous apple orchards would be naught without our beloved pollinators 

New York State Parks Native Plant Policy

 New York State Flora

— Have a plant to identify? Try GoBotany

Native plants for pollinators, by region

Please note, some of the plants listed in this resource are native to the ecoregion but not to NY state. Please check the NY Flora Atlas to confirm which are native to New York before choosing your planting list.

NY Flora Atlas – list of plants known in NY and which are native or not

Pollinator Identification Tools

— Have a bug to identify? Try BugGuide

— Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation Northeast Region Pollinator Plants

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Post by Erin Lennon, OPRHP and Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

2 thoughts on “Plants for Our Pollinators”

  1. Hello, I live in briarwood queens NY by a small playground surrounded by lots of grass, trees and some bushes. I was wondering how to initiate planting pollinator plants. I hear milkweed is great and I would love to see more butterfly bushes and plants that feed the birds and other wildlife. Since I been living in this neighborhood for the last 4 years I noticed more robins and blue jays. I feed the birds and squirrels, seeds, bread, nuts and fruit. So I think it would help if there were more plants, shrubs and bushes that feed the birds and also protect them in the winter. They have to survive too. Thank you for your time.
    Peace
    Denise

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