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In This Place

Pollinator Week Highlights Ways to Landscape for Wildlife

wasp and bees echincaea.jpg
Mark Faherty
Wasp, bees and skippers (butterflies) on echinacea

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it’s National Pollinator Week. What are your plans? Maybe watching your town’s pollinator parade? Exchanging the traditional gifts of native plants with your loved ones? Perhaps adopting a bee for the kids to raise. I’m kidding of course. It is pollinator week, but if you’re like me, I suspect it’s just another of the million things that whiz past the leading edge of your consciousness without sticking. And the fact that there are other official national events such as National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day and National Fruitcake Toss Day – I’m not making this up – may understandably cause you to tune out these special weeks.

But this one is both real and really important. Pollinators are having a bit of moment, and none too soon. With insects on the decline globally, and some native bee species blinking out, it’s time to reconsider how we manage our land at all scales. This especially includes better regulating large scale use of pesticides like the neonicitinoid insecticides still widely used by both farmers and suburban homeowners, as well as maintaining and restoring native plant communities – here in our pine barrens that may include prescribed burning, mowing, and tree-thinning, all of which increase both plant and pollinator diversity. An important new report about conservation of plants in New England, jointly produced by The Nature Conservancy and the Native Plant Trust, showed that open, patchy habitats, like our local sandplain grasslands and heathlands, best exemplified at Crane Wildlife Management Area and Camp Edwards, have densities of rare plant species 10 times that of wetlands and 40 times that of forests. I suspect those numbers are even higher for insect diversity.

“So-called ‘Bird Guy’, you may be saying, “what’s with yet another piece about bugs?” I hear you, but in reality, what’s good for the bees is good for the birds, which is why I prefer the more holistic term “landscaping for wildlife”. My goal is to get you thinking beyond honeybees, which are non-native livestock, and hummingbirds, which are super cool, but there’s so much more out there. There are around 4000 species of native bees in North America, perhaps hundreds of those on the Cape and Islands.

Wellfleet Bay Pollinator Garden August 2019_reduced.jpg
Mark Faherty
Wellfleet Bay Pollinator Garden

Collectively, we suburban homeowners have a lot of power to create pollinator and other wildlife habitat through our landscaping choices. Choosing native plants, reducing or eliminating pesticides and herbicides, and reducing and rethinking lawns can all help. So can leaving important habitat elements like dead trees and branches, leaf litter, and bare soil, all of which are hugely important for nesting native bees and beneficial solitary wasps, not to mention overwintering moths and butterflies. If your property is big enough, consider converting part of it to native grassland to really make an impact.

Using mostly native plants, starting with your trees, shrubs, and grasses, supports the full range of native insects, a dizzying, interconnected array of tiny herbivores, predators, parasites, parasitoids, and even hyperparisitoids – that would be parasites of parasites. You won’t see many of those guys, but they are quietly doing the important work or regulating insect populations.

columbine and wild indigo.png
Mark Faherty
Columbine and wild indigo

What more can you do for insect populations? Check out Pollinator Pathways Cape Cod, a new initiative to promote landscaping for pollinators and using native plants in particular. They have resources to get you started, including links to garden designs for different regions and yard sizes, and you can even register your property and submit garden photos. The Mass Audubon website also has pollinator resources and plant lists. But first, make sure to just sit back and enjoy pollinator week – it only comes once a year, after all. Maybe I’ll even see you at the parade!