Bumble Bee Project
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- You can find the most current version of the recommended plant list on Dr. Gegear’s website.
- The MCA also provides advice on How to Use Dr. Gegear's Recommended Plant List
- For shade-tolerant plants from Dr. Gegear's list, review this sorted list.
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 List: This 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 List: This 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.
- Assessing and Improving Your Landscape to Save Native Pollinators: A guide to using Dr. Gegear's plant list to create habitat for at-risk native pollinators.
- Restoring Pollination Systems to the MCA Region: Highlights of two projects for at-risk pollinator conservation and how volunteers can get involved. Edited by Liz Kaprielian.
- Threatened Ecosystems: the People-Plant-Pollinator Solution by Dr. Robert J. Gegear
- Designing Biodiversity by Evan Abramson of Landscape Interactions