For the Pollinators

I recently attended a pollinator working group meeting here in Brooklyn sponsored by the City Parks Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation.* I’d like to share some of the things I came away with.

Honeybees are ever in the news, but there are over two hundred other species of bees found in New York City. There are many more species found across North America. And these are just the bees. Butterflies and moths, as well as some wasps, ants, flies, and beetles also do the work of pollination. As do birds and bats. In general, though, most people would probably point to bees, and maybe butterflies, as the preeminent pollinators around here.

And all insect populations are falling. So what can we do? Education, education, education, for one. But also work towards making more habitat for plants and the animals that pollinate them.

Rather like us, these animals need food, water, and shelter. More flowering trees and plants, please. Even some wasps, who feed other insects to their young, eat nectar themselves. And make these plants regionally-native species, since that’s what these animals have spent millions of years evolving alongside with. (Some non-native species provide plenty of nectar, but this is less rich in lipids than that of native species, so it tastes great, but is less filling.)

Shelter. Have you heard about “bee condos”? Here are plans for a simple one. Here are some even better looking ones.

Excellent! But guess what? Most local bees (indeed, most of the world’s bees) are ground-nesters. So let’s not forget about them. Patches of different kinds of soils, free of mulch, with minimal plant cover, are a good place to start. Ah, but yellow jacket wasps also live underground, meaning it’s a good idea to be able to make a distinction between bees and wasps; the quickest is that bees are hairy and wasps are not. And once you know that, be cool: let the wasps live. You leave them alone, they leave you alone. Frankly, as hard as it is for some people to imagine, insects don’t seem to care much about us at all.

Aesthetics: the average garden is orderly, pretty, and rather sterile from the perspective of planet Earth. Indeed, “garden” has long been the antithesis of “nature.” This aesthetic/philosophical perspective is not an easy one to transform. Yet the planet is in crisis, largely of our doing, so habitat really needs to come before our egocentric concerns about pretty flowers and charming borders.

For instance, we need more disorder, more mess, more clutter. Did you know that some bees nest inside stems? Lawn and clean-edge lovers, like the Parks Department and your average gardener, don’t like “dead” stems. But you should, and you should evangelize your love for habitat wherever you can.

Three more strategies:

1. Avoid pesticides.
2. Don’t use pesticides.
3. Stop using pesticides.

Some resources:

Greenbelt Native Planet Center.
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.
Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.
More on how to attract native bee species.

*I have done some elementary and middle school outdoor/indoor presentations for a NWF project in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. An enjoyable time was had by all, and nobody got stung. The fact that (some) bees (rarely) sting is the one thing just about everybody knows about bees. So that’s where I usually start when I talk about bees.

Megachile on Asclepias

2 Responses to “For the Pollinators”


  1. 2 peopleplaceswords November 27, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Encountered “ground wasps” picking wild blackberries in Oregon. Disturbed a nest and they came streaming out in fury. We fled, they identified us as the perps, aggressively pursued and stung.


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