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 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.
NY Natural Heritage Program and the Empire State Native Pollinator Survey
Wilson, Joseph S, The Bees In Your Backyard, Princeton University Press, 2015.
Xerces Pollinator Conservation
More information on insects and flowers:
Butterflies and Moths of North America
McKenny, Margaret and Roger Tory Peterson, A Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America
Newcomb, Lawrence, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide
Tallamy, Douglas and Rick Darke, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded