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Here at The Trustees one of the things we all share is a love for the outdoors. In Massachusetts we’re privileged to be surrounded by so many beautiful spaces and ecosystems, from the beaches around us here at Cape Pogue on the Vineyard, all the way up the coast line to Halibut Point Reservation in Rockport, or Castle Hill in Ipswich. We have wonderful forest stretching through places such as Naumkeag out in Stockbridge and truly beautiful marshes and swamps at reservations such as Ward Reservation in Andover. We love these places and all that comes together making them beautiful, especially the plant life. Unfortunately, all too often we forget the little unsung heroes in all these spaces, and our gardens, the pollinators causing the plant pollination all around us – to refresh, pollination is what happens when pollen from the stamen of a flower is moved to the stigma of a flower and fertilizes it, resulting in the production of fruit and seeds. Some plants use wind as a pollen dispersal mechanism. Other plants rely on other animal species to move pollen. Some pollinators intentionally collect pollen for the protein and in the process spreading it to other flowers, while other pollinators move pollen incidentally and cause its spread as they collect nectar from flowers. While we may immediately think of a European honey bee or a butterfly, a pollinator may be a, a wasp, a bird, a bat, a beetle, flies, etc.
Back in June 2012, The Trustees announced the completion of a 2 year Native Pollinator Study conducted on Martha’s Vineyard led by the Edey Foundation and Dr. Paul Goldstein of the University of Maryland and Smithsonian Institute. Their study found 167 native species of bees on Martha’s Vineyard which represents about half of the 342 species known across Massachusetts. In the US there are about 4000 species of bees. The results showed Martha’s Vineyard having the highest concentration of native bee species for an Atlantic coast offshore island. The Island’s rich diversity of pollinating fauna is also noted in the species of moths and butterflies encountered, and actually serves as a hotspot for regionally rare and threatened invertebrates. I actually had the pleasure of tagging along on many surveying outings here on Martha’s Vineyard with the MV Land Bank in the past. These insects are a crucial component to ecosystems. Of the 342 species here in Mass, many provide important roles as pollinators not only in our surrounding ecosystems but also our food production. While European honey bees are often used to pollinate our cranberry and blueberry fields on a large scale, they have come under threat of Colony Collapse Disorder and often leave the pollination of many other food crops to other pollinators.
Encouraging native bee and wasp species, encouraging all pollinator species, is exceedingly important in sustaining healthy ongoing ecosystems in the long run, and also for encouraging healthy sustainable communities, and certainly for our food production! Of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the global food supply, 71 of the plant species are bee pollinated and it is often said that one of every three bites of food we eat can be attributed to bees. Right now, it is estimated that insect pollinators in general contribute $29 billion dollars to farm income. More than 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants are pollinated by pollinators. Unfortunately in today’s world, the perfect lawn, the home with no munched leaves, the monoculture of food production, habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, a changing climate, and introduced pathogens can all take a toll on our native pollinators. Pesticide use and habitat loss though are the big two. According to an apicurist at the University of California named Eric Mussen, ‘biologist have found more than 150 different chemical residues in bee pollen, a deadly pesticide cocktail.’
Here at the Mytoi Garden on Martha’s Vineyard, the choice has been made to use any pesticides as sparingly as possible in this landscape, and when applied to spot spray or to paint the herbicide onto cut stems. Usually this involves applying it to the stump of a tree or shrub just removed that will undoubtedly grow back with vigour untreated, and where digging out or grinding out roots is not feasible. Finding non-chemical solutions is more preferable still such as mulching to reduce weeds. Here in the garden I am surrounded by several different beautiful ecosystems and an abundance of wildlife. Towhees scratching in the fallen leaves, catbirds calling from the shrubs, American robins rooting for earth worms, ospreys circling above, chickadees in the pines, snapping turtles foraging in the pond, ribbon snakes sunbathing on the ponds edges, green darner and blue dasher dragonflies zooming over the pond, hummingbird moths drinking nectar, and untold, often unseen native bees pollinating the plants all around me. To me, none are worth risking. At The Trustees, we are charged with caring for our preserves as stewards which will allow the land and ecosystems and species in them to be as healthy as possible as we coexist as a part of these spaces, including doing what we can to promote native pollinators. The Trustees have also been creating more long grass areas and planting wildflowers in the mix such as the plantings at Bird Park in Walpole, or the bee pastures created at the Powisset Farm in Dover. For the long run, one exceedingly important aspect I believe is to teach our little ones an appreciation for the beauty and intricacies of nature surrounding us whether in a classroom or just taking advantage of a teachable moment about the little unsung pollinating heroes.
What Can I Do to Help?
Good question! To improve habitat for and encourage native pollinators, you can plant a garden at your home utilizing many of our beautiful native plants. Put in species that will bloom at different times throughout the year. Our native pollinators and plants have evolved and adapted together over generations, and many of the native bee species are pollen specialist pollinating certain plants while they collect for food for their (even) littler ones. At your workplace, plant a pollinator garden as a team or have a long grass meadow dotted with native wildflowers. On Martha’s Vineyard, Polly Hill Arboretum plant sales of the MV Wildtype is a great choice for new local native plants, or on the mainland, at the New England Wild Flower Society’s beautiful Garden in the Woods.
Avoid using pesticides in your yard whenever possible. Many of the pesticides sold now are marketed to rid your yard, your lawn, and your plants of all of the insects by blanketing the whole space with chemicals… this is an awful thing and certainly not the maker of an environment I’d ever want my daughter exposed to or jumping through. Rototill or dig up a little spot of earth to provide nesting habitat. Purchase a bee house or make one as a family by drilling holes of various diameters 3 to 5 inches deep in a piece of untreated scrap lumber and mount it to a fence post. Another fun one as a family is to create a damp salt lick for bees and butterflies by simply keeping a spot in the garden with a small amount of sea salt or wood ashes mixes into the soil. Try to resist knocking the mud homes created on the wall of your own and instead watch the activity. Put out a plate of overripe bananas, oranges and other fruits. If it is not a hazard to your home and those in your yard, spare pruning some dead branches on your trees or leave the standing trunk when a tree is taken down. Find out what the native butterflies need as caterpillars and plant host plants just for them in your garden such as milkweed for the monarchs. Read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Support land conservation. There’s so much you can do! Happy exploring!