Bumble Bee Project

Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators

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).

Pollinator Plantings

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 the help of a diversity of animals to pollinate and 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) 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: ​https://gegearlab.weebly.com

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.

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
  • 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