It is Pollinator Week, the week we celebrate pollinators small and tiny. Our native pollinators, including bumble bees, mining bees, bee flies, longhorn beetles, and flower moths, play an important role in supporting the diversity of plant life in New York. Since 2016, State Parks staff has been working hard to help protect our native pollinators by cultivating native plant gardens and meadows.
Pollinator gardens are a great way to attract a variety of pollinators and provide a place for people to see and learn about plants and pollinators up close. Unlike natural areas, these areas often contain a familiar garden plants like daffodils, marigolds, petunias, snapdragons, Stella Dora lilies, garden iris, cosmos, and many other non-native plants that provide color and variety and attract pollinators. However, by adding in plants that are native to New York State, you boost the value to the insects. Native pollinators evolved with the native flora, so they do better on these plants. Some examples of native flora that are good for gardens are violets, blue flag iris, wood lily, butterfly weed (not to be confused with the non-native butterfly bush see below), asters, goldenrods, native sunflowers, Joe-Pye weed, azalea, and many others. Using a variety plants helps to support both the insect “generalists” who use many kinds of flowers, as well as the “specialists” that go to only one or a few types of flowers. Pollinator gardens in State Parks offer a good way for you to learn about some plants that occur in the park or region too.
Pollinator garden in Saratoga Spa State Park
Planting the pollinator garden in Glimmerglass State Park
Exploring the butterfly house at Wellesley Island State Park
Pollinator meadows are larger areas from a quarter acre to many acres, typically where old fields containing a mix of native and pasture grasses are supplemented with native plant species that attract pollinators. This is the type of area that works well for planting milkweed, goldenrods, native grasses (like little bluestem, panic grass, big bluestem), and other species that don’t need a lot of care and that tend to spread. To maintain the meadow habitat, these sites are best managed by occasional mowing to keep woody plants from moving in. Targeted weeding is also needed to keep any non-native invasives from getting a foothold. But managing a meadow close to a woodland is a plus as a number of pollinators make their home their and visit the meadows for food.
There are many lists of plants recommended for pollinator gardens or meadows but be wary as some contain plants that are not native to New York state. They also sometimes include non-native invasives which you really don’t want!
And beware that some common names can be confusing. For example, butterfly bush vs butterfly weed are not remotely related! Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is a purple flowered shrub that is popular but not native and can be invasive. Best to avoid that one. In contrast, butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is an orange flowered milkweed native to NY and a great choice for attracting pollinators to your garden or meadow. To determine if a plant species is native to NY go to NY Flora Atlas.
NY State Parks staff have created more areas that make it easy for you to learn about native flora and fauna. The following places offer excellent spots for you to see native pollinators and learn about the plants they depend on. Take time this week to ponder pollinators at one of State Parks’ pollinator gardens or meadows.
Some of the parks will also have special pollinator programs during both Pollinator Week and over the summer, where you can search for and identify native pollinators.
Learn more about our native pollinators and other insects:
Hohm, Heather, Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants, Pollination Press LLC; 2014.
It’s National Pollinator Week! Scientists have been busy looking to see what pollinators live in State Parks. Here’s a first look at some of the early results.
In 2017 a cadre of NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) biologists working under a long-standing agreement with State Parks began testing out sampling methods for a multi-year statewide Native Pollinator Survey (ESNPS) under the auspices of the Governor’s NYS Pollinator Protection Plan jointly administered by Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Agriculture and Markets.
The goal of the ESNPS is to determine the rarity of a wide array of native insect pollinators in non-agricultural habitats. NYNHP Zoologists honed in on the most important and vulnerable pollinating groups in the state, representing a wide variety of native insect pollinators such as bumble bees, mining bees, bee flies, longhorn beetles and flower moths.
Between June 8 – October 3, 2017 on fair weather days, two biologists used sets of small painted bowls containing soapy water to trap pollinators (the insects mistake the color for a flower) in four different habitat types within each Park (see photo). The biologists also used insect nets to hand- capture pollinators (see photo), spending the better part of one day obtaining a snapshot of the Park’s pollinator community. The collections are the only way to document and identify most of the species.
NYNHP Zoologists Ashley Ballou and Andrea Chaloux filling bowls with soapy water for trapping pollinators at Moreau lake State Park on July 10, 2017. Photo courtesy of NYNHP.
Pollinator netting in Wetland Habitat Robert V Riddell State Park on August 16, 2017. Photo courtesy of NYNHP.
Over the past winter the biologists then separated out the flies (Dipterans) from the bees and pinned these specimens so that they could be identified by fly specialists at SUNY Cobleskill (see photo). They focused on flies in one notable family, the Syrphidae – or Syrphids, known as the hover flies or flower flies. Most of the remaining captured pollinators like the bees will be identified by experts at Cornell University as the project continues.
SUNY Cobleskill student intern Liam Somers identifying hover flies in the lab. Photo courtesy of NYNHP.
A box of pinned and labeled hover flies. Experts will identify these individuals to species. The specimens become a permanent record that can be used for future research. Photo courtesy of NYNHP.
Preliminary results are in for the hover flies or flower flies that SUNY Cobleskill experts helped to identify. There are many different species or types of these flies and not anything like the plain black housefly. Some go by interesting names like Bristlesides, Sedgesitters and Leafwalkers. Many hover flies are mimics of stinging Hymenoptera (see photo) and known to be second only to bees in their pollinating prowess. This is because the adult flies feed on pollen and nectar to power their energy- intensive flight. In doing so, they help to pollinate a wide range of trees, shrubs and wildflowers in every conceivable habitat. At the same time, their larvae (the young stage) are predators of harmful insects such as aphids and adelgids. Many play an important role in aiding decomposition in aquatic and forest environments; in effect breaking down leaves, logs and other debris which then releases nutrients and builds soil. In other words, Hover flies are very important to the health of our native ecosystems.
A brand new hover fly field guide focusing specifically on northeastern North America will be published later in 2018 by a team of Canadian researchers. This will allow anybody with an interest to pursue these fascinating and colorful insects who will challenge your notions of what a fly is!
A few fun facts we learned about hover flies in State Parks:
Total number of Parks sampled: 22 (in all Regions)
Total number of different Syrphid (fly) pollinators: 50 species
State Parks with the highest diversity of hover flies (at least 7 different species plus more than 15 individual flies): Minnewaska, Thacher, Sunken Meadow, Letchworth, Taconic, and Allegany
Number of new species never before seen in the State, or were thought to be no longer in NYS: 5
Two out of every three individuals captured (67%) was a calligrapher (Toxomerus), small black and yellow flies whose larvae eat aphids (see photo)
Number of Parks with a species that mimic hornets (the rare eastern hornet fly (Spilomyia longicornis)): 3: Allegany, Knox Farm, Sunken Meadow
Number of Syrphid species whose larvae eat adelgids (adelgids are a small insect that can cause severe tree damage): 2 (in the genus Heringia) at Gilbert Lake, Grafton, Moreau Lake
Number of non-native, introduced species detected: 2. The common compost fly (Syritta pipiens), and common drone fly (Eristalis tenax)
Over half of the State Parks had at least one Syrphid species that lives predominantly in older forests.
Authored by Jeff Corser, Zoologist with NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP).
NY Natural Heritage Program is affiliated with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) and works in close partnership with NYS Parks and NYS DEC. The Empire State Native Pollinator Project is only one of many kinds of surveys and studies that the program conducts to provide guidance and tools for conservation of native biodiversity across New York State.
Across New York, State Parks staff is working hard to help support the diverse populations of pollinators from bees to butterflies, beetles, wasps, and more. Here’s a sample of the pollinator protection projects going on this year in State Parks.
Working from their photographs from both Rockefeller State Park Preserve and Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, photographers Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman created the website “Guide to Wild Bees of New York.” This stunning website features extensive photographic documentation, scientific classification, identification guides, and behavior and habitat information on over 80 species of bees in the Hudson Valley. In addition, Sharp and Eatman curated the Wild Bees exhibit which is on display on the concourse at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY now until June 25, the end of Pollinator Week 2017. One visitor noted that the photos “…helped me to see bees in a new light.”
Staff is developing educational materials about the native pollinators who live in the recently restored sedge meadow. This wet meadow (with grass-like sedges) is habitat for several uncommon butterflies, including northern pearly eye (Enodia anthedon), Appalachian brown (Satyrodes appalachia), mulberry wing (Poanes massasoit) and black dash (Euphyes vestris). However, the size of the habitat at the John Jay State Historic site has declined because woody plants and non-native invasives such as multiflora rose and Oriental bittersweet started growing in the meadow. Woody shrubs have been removed to set back succession and restore the sedge meadow habitat. The outreach materials will explain the restoration and highlight some of the flora and pollinators that visitors may see at the park.
Long Island State Parks
Bring Back the Pollinators Project
State Parks biologists and environmental educators are establishing and enhancing native plantings and habitat in seven state parks throughout Long Island. Look for these pollinator projects in Orient Beach State Park, Heckscher State Park, Bethpage State Park, Robert Moses State Park, Caleb Smith State Park, Connetquot State Park Preserve, and Belmont Lake State Park. The Bring Back the Pollinators project is focused on gardens in order to give visitors a close-up view and to learn about the native plants and pollinators. This work goes hand-in-hand with efforts by NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) scientists to identify and protect the natural areas in parks which are key to supporting native fauna, including pollinators. Parks staff have also installed tall fencing around several gardens at Robert Moses State Park, Caleb Smith State Park, Heckscher State Park, and Orient Beach State Park to keep the deer from eating the showcase of flora and pollinator fauna.
At Ganondagan State Historic Site, three projects will enhance habitat for native pollinators and other fauna. Staff has worked with NYNHP to identify plant species that are native to the area and that reflect similar natural communities known in the vicinity. Just as important is that the projects restore the cultural landscape of the Seneca town that was on the site over 330 years ago.
The Oak Opening Habitat project is restoring a 60-acre old field to native grasslands to provide habitat for grassland birds, mammals, and pollinators as well as opportunities for historical interpretation. This spring, the grass seeds were sown and invasive species control efforts will continue through 2018. The restoration is based on the NYNHP rare Oak Opening community, which is known from a few places in nearby Monroe County.
The Green Plants Trail is the second project. It includes removing invasive species and replanting native plants to improve pollinator habitat and to feature a variety of plants that had and have cultural value to the Seneca people.
The third project at Ganondagan, Pollinator Grassland, transformed a weedy 13-acre grassland into a tallgrass prairie by planting native grasses (such as big bluestem and Indian grass) and wildflowers (including common milkweed). These plants benefit pollinators and other native fauna.
State Parks Partnership Educational Banners and Posters on Native Pollinators and Habitats in State Parks
NYNHP staff is developing high quality banners and signage to promote the importance of native plants and habitats in State Parks and their role in supporting native pollinators. These materials will feature the partnership between NY Natural Heritage Program and State Parks and will be available for use at events, education centers, and other venues. In 2016, NYNHP displayed some draft posters to accompany activities at the New York State Fair, which stimulated many questions and compliments. Messaging, photo selection and design of banners and signage is under way using other funding sources and the professional fabrication of signage will be completed in 2017.
This photo of a clearwing moth was posted at the 2016 NY State Fair to accompany activities on pollinators. Photo credit: Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP.
Pollinators use a variety of plants and habitats from field to forest. Photo credit: Greg Edinger, NYNHP.
The banners will describe how NY Natural Heritage Program is partnering with State Parks to protect habitat and learn more about what pollinators are present in NY – like this rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis). Photo credit: LW Macior.
The Council of Park Friends and a local garden club teamed up to plant a native pollinator garden along the side of the nature center at Clark Reservation. The project includes interpretive signs about the native plants, invasive species control, and how State Parks is helping to support native pollinators.
Staff and volunteers at this park are creating a Sensory Awareness Trail. Along the trail, staff added NY native plants to attract native pollinators and to interpret the role these plants and pollinators play in our environment. The accessible trail includes tactile elements such as sculptures of insects/animals that rely on our native plant species.
Local school students planted native plants at Saratoga Spa State Park to help provide food for both the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly (Plebejus melissa samuelis) and the state threatened frosted elfin butterfly (Callophrys irus). And at the Creekside Classroom, a new environmental learning center at Saratoga Spa State Park, a diverse mix of native plantings for landscaping and raingardens were installed.
Lupines in flower, Saratoga Spa State Park Spring 2017, photo by Casey Holzworth
Waldorf School students spreading wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) seed in a cleared field in 2016 , photo by John Rozell, State Parks
The underside of the Karner blue seen perched on the host plant, wild lupine (Lupinus perennis). Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.
Male Karner blue butterfly. Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.
Creekside Classroom entrance garden, photo by Casey Holzworth, State Parks
Creekside Classroom raingarden will attract native pollinators and serve as a teaching tool for State Parks staff, photo by Casey Holzworth, State Parks.
This summer, staff will convert four small lawns to wildflower meadows at Grafton Lakes State Park. The restoration will include planting native plants to attract native pollinators. Look for the work near the main entrance and near the new visitor’s center.
State Parks’ staff worked with Renssalaer County Soil and Water Conservation District, National Resources Conservation Service, and Cornell Cooperative Extension to convert two cornfields at Bennington Battlefield to grazing pasture and a wildflower meadow. Work on this 26-acre project included tilling and seeding the area with non-invasive grasses and planting native pollinator meadows along the edges of the field and nearby wetlands. The pollinator meadows will be fenced off to keep grazing livestock out of those areas.