MCA Native Pollinator Taskforce (Bumble Bee Project)

Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators

See below for list of 2024 Garden Tours

Bombus fervidus (golden northern bumble bee) at lupine. Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Gegear.

The MCA’s Native Pollinator Task Force has launched the Bumble Bee Project to promote the conservation of at-risk native bumble bees.

The mission of the Bumble Bee Project is to conserve native pollination systems by providing the specific habitats required by at-risk pollinators--and to reduce the threats to those pollinators--in the 36 communities of the Metrowest Conservation Alliance (MCA).

Plantings for Pollination

In recent years, many gardeners have been creating pollinator gardens in their backyards and in public spaces. To track the location of these gardens--and to track the increasing number of pollinator gardens over time--we have created an online, interactive map of these pollinator plantings in our region. Learn more and add your garden to the map!

The Decline of Pollinators

Many species of native pollinators are declining primarily due to habitat loss and also due to the prevalent use of some pesticides and to climate change. This crucial decline warrants action, because over three-quarters of the world’s flowering plants need pollination from of a diversity of animals to reproduce. Native pollinators and plants have co-evolved over time to form interdependent and mutually beneficial relationships known as pollination systems. 

The many types of plants and pollinators have many unique, and often specialized, relationships. Bumblebee species visit different flowers depending on the length of the bumblebee’s tongue aligning with the shape of the flower. Bumblebees forage on different plants to fulfill their needs for nectar and pollen.

Preserving the diversity of these relationships keeps the whole pollination system healthy. When we provide the essential habitat features for the at-risk species we are also providing important habitat for many other native pollinators. (Learn how gardening for native pollinators differs from traditional gardening.)

B. fervidus drone (no stinger) on Mark Hanson’s thumb. Photo by Mark Hanson.

The Focus of the Bumble Bee Project

A major public misconception about native pollinator decline is that all species are declining at the same rate. This is not true.

In Metrowest, the populations of two bumble bee species, Bombus fervidus (golden northern bumble bee; shown on a fingertip [no stinger]) and Bombus vagans (half-black bumble bee) have declined dramatically, and Bombus terricola (yellow-banded bumble bee; bottom image), which is found at high elevation in Western MA, is also at risk. In contrast, the populations of Bombus impatiens (common eastern bumblebee) have increased dramatically.

Bombus terricola. Photo by Mark Hanson.

The Bumble Bee Project is focusing on efforts to conserve the most at-risk bumble bees in Metrowest. Our work is based on the research and recommendations of Dr. Robert Gegear, Professor at UMass Dartmouth and founder of The Beecology Project, a citizen science app to study foraging habits of bumble bees. You can find more information about his research on his website: ​

Task Force members are Lizza Smith, Chair (Maynard), Karin Paquin, City of Marlborough, Giancarla Kalpas (Chelmsford), Mark Hanson (Concord), and Laura Mattei, SVT’s Director of Conservation.


Email [email protected] to contact the Native Pollinator Task Force.

BBP Garden Tours 2024

Chelmsford: Thursday, June 20, 12:00-4:30PM @ Sunny Meadow Farm

Bumblebee Identification Workshop (registration required):

12:00PM - 2:00 PM, presented by Dr. Robert Gegear, the scientist on whose research covers at-risk species of bees in New England. During the workshop. Dr. Gegear will guide us in identifying the bumblebees that we see and will teach us how to use the Beecology app to upload the information to the database. REQUIRES PREREGISTRARTION and has limited capacity. Register here: Park in the parking lot under the power lines or right next to the gardens.


Garden Tour (registration NOT required):

Open to the public—no preregistration required. Established in 2021, on town owned land dedicated to farming, the garden has been expanded several times. It now includes a shade garden as well as a plant nursery. Plants are chosen from Dr. Gegear’s list for at risk bees and butterflies and provide pollen and nectar sources throughout the season. Bumble bees concern have been sighted here every year. Join Giancarla from the BBP on this tour. Park in the parking lot under the power lines or right next to the gardens.

Southborough: Sunday, June 23, 11:30AM - 1:00PM @ Southborough Library

The Southborough Open Space Preservation Commission (OSPC) invites you to a Garden Tour and Talk starting at the Native Pollination Preservation Garden at the Southborough Library. We will visit the Lawn Alternative Trial Garden before walking
over to Heritage Park, the newly created town park directly adjacent to the library. The park was designed with trees and shrubs as well as a large rain garden with plants from Dr. Robert Gegear’s Plant List for At- Risk Pollinators.


At 12:30 we will embark on a short drive down Main Street to visit the Beals Preserve, a Southborough Open Land Foundation property to visit the Whit Beals Biodiversity Through Pollination Garden.. Freddie Gillespie, Chair of Southborough’s Open Space Preservation Commission, will lead the tour and discuss how the OSPC has collaborated with other town government
and nonprofit entities to create multiple gardens, meadows and plantings on both public and private lands using Dr. Gegear’s plant list to Preserve Biodiversity Through Pollination.
Tour is rain or shine. 


Marlborough: Wednesday, June 26, 6:00-7:00PM @ Ghiloni Park

Ghiloni Park is Marlborough’s largest public park and home to a native woodland shade garden and a full sun pollinator preservation garden. Members of the volunteer team who installed the pollinator preservation garden and members of the Marlborough Garden Club who manage the native woodland shade garden, are hosting a garden tour to include both gardens on Wednesday, June 26 from 6-7pm. The pollinator preservation garden was installed in 2022 and features 20+ species of native plants selected specifically to support at-risk native bumblebees while supporting a whole host of additional native pollinators. The native woodland shade garden showcases a number of native perennials, shrubs and trees that do well under a forest canopy. Volunteers will be on hand to talk about the importance of native plants and how everyone can take part in supporting native pollinators. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions about which native plants to select, site prep, costs, and ongoing maintenance. Ghiloni Park is located at 239 Concord Road and has ample parking on site. Both gardens are located south of the parking area near the running track - there will be signs to direct you to both garden sites.


Lincoln: Thursday, June 27, 3:00-4:00PM @ Chapman Pasture

Lincoln Land Conservation Trust (LLCT) Staff Bryn and Sara will be at Chapman Pasture to answer questions about this site. The pasture was grazed by sheep for 50+ years. LLCT included the field in the Lincoln Pollinator Action Plan in 2020 and began efforts to restore a native pollination system at the site. Since 2021, LLCT has conducted two prescribed burns on the field. In Fall 2022, LLCT seeded an area of the field with a mix based on Dr. Gegear's plant list. In Fall 2023 LLCT added plants into a small fenced garden area to the field, as a way to deter deer while plants are getting established. This spring (in May) students will be helping LLCT expand the planted area. The site continues to be a place for LLCT to experiment with the best methods to establish diverse plant populations at a larger scale than the organization's smaller demonstration gardens. 


Parking: The best way to access Chapman Pasture is via Silver Hill Road. From Weston Road, drive north on Silver Hill Road. The trailhead is across from #50. Just north of the trailhead, there is an area of road that has a wider/flatter shoulder and can accommodate several cars. From the trailhead, walk 1/4 mile over bog bridges to reach the field. We will be in the northern section of the field.


Littleton: Sunday, June 30, 3:00-4:00PM @ Littleton Library

The Littleton Library completed a a new stand alone building in November 2021 and was required to plant native plants on its campus due to it’s vicinity to wetlands. Dr. Rob Gegear was recommended by our town conservation agent to advise on plant selection. Since then, a number of efforts have taken place to manage the land for healthy pollination systems with an additional focus on at-risk bumblebee species. Join Erin Jade, lead volunteer for the project, as she explains the complexities of managing these intricate systems.


Northborough: Saturday, July 13, 10:00-11:00AM @ Watson Park Pollination Preservation Garden (40 Lyman St)

Watson Park (recipient of the 2024 Community Greening Award through the New England Botanical Garden) is owned by the Town of Northborough, and is a 30 acre park with a boat dock to Bartlett Pond. In June 2022, an existing, neglected pollination garden at the entrance to the park was re-purposed to be a native pollination preservation garden, using over 40 plants from Dr. Gegear’s list to support our native at-risk bees. The plants were all propagated from seed using Winter Sow method by the community! An adjacent little bluestem meadow was started in September 2022. Volunteers will describe the site prep and challenges of the pollination garden (sheet mulch method) and meadow (rototiller to remove turf grass from the field).


Watch a Presentation by Dr. Gegear: More Than Just the Buzz

Dr. Gegear Presentation in Stow, February 2023

On February 15, 2023, Dr. Robert Gegear gave a presentation entitled "More than just the buzz: A pPractical guide to restoring native plant-pollinator systems (and why it matters)" at the Stow Community Center. The program was sponsored by the Bumble Bee Project and SVT. 

Stow TV recorded the session and posted it to YouTube.

Watch the presentation.


Pollinator Preservation Gardens and the Community Ambassador Program

Pollinator Preservation Gardens

Pollinator Preservation Gardens provide the plants and other habitat features required by our at-risk pollinators. To demonstrate the features of a Pollinator Preservation Garden, the Bumble Bee Project has installed Public Display Gardens in several communities. These gardens provide model habitat and help to educate others about at-risk pollination systems.

Community Ambassador Program

We are seeking Volunteer Community Ambassadors to help install additional Public Display Gardens in all 36 towns and cities in the MCA Region. Community Ambassadors will serve a key role in the promotion of the Bumble Bee Project, the creation of habitat for native pollinators, and the restoration of pollination systems.

Read more about becoming a Volunteer Community Ambassador for the Bumble Bee Project.

Recommended Plants and Where to Find Them

Not all plants provide nectar, pollen, or habitat for native pollinators or at-risk pollinators.

Choosing native plants over ornamentals helps many different kinds of pollinators including bees, moths, butterflies, and birds. Bees also need nesting and overwintering habitat, not just flowers.

Recommended Plant List

Dr. Gegear has developed a list of plants he recommends for at-risk pollinators. This list provides detailed information about the bloom time, sun and soil needs, and which species of pollinator prefers that plant. This is a great resource and an essential tool for your pollinator gardening journey. 

Please note: Some of the plants on Dr. Gegear’s recommended plant list are state listed. They are protected by the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.

It is illegal to collect these plants, their seeds or any other part of the plant from wild populations. However, it is legal to purchase them from a nursery and plant them in your yard or garden.

Dr. Gegear encourages planting the rare plants because he believes it will aid the recovery of the plants and the pollination systems.  A group of Massachusetts plant conservationists strongly discourage this practice because they believe that rare plant conservation requires a more thoughtful process that accounts for various biological and ecological factors.

The following plants on Dr. Gegear's list are state-listed (E = endangered; T = threatened):

  • Hypericum ascyron - Great St. John’s wort (E)
  • Asclepias purpurascens - Purple milkweed (E)
  • Asclepias verticillata - Whorled milkweed (T)
  • Agastache schrophulariaefolia - Purple giant hyssop (E)
  • Lobelia siphilitica - Blue lobelia (E)
  • Penstemon hirsutus  - Hairy beardtongue (E)
  • Blephilia hirsuta - Hairy woodmint (E)
  • Blephilia ciliate - Downy woodmint (E)

Where to Buy Native Plants

In 2023, the Bumble Bee Project compiled the following lists of nurseries that sell native plants. We do not have plans to update the lists at this time, so we recommend you call ahead to see if the nurseries carry the plants you wish to purchase.

  • 2023 Plant Source ListThis pdf contains current information for four native plant nurseries: Native Plant Trust, Bagley Pond Perennials, ecoDesigns, and Blue Stem Natives. 
  • 2023 Additional Plant Sources: This is a general list of plant sources and resources. 
  • 2020 Plant Source ListThis list was compiled in 2020 with information from several nurseries. It has not been updated, but it provides an overview of many different nurseries and, generally, what they carry.


Resources for More Information



Video Presentations