Pollinator Pathway • Homegrown National Park
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, three-quarters of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. Climate change, habitat loss, intensive farming, and pesticides are all major contributors to losses of both native insect pollinators and commercially managed honeybee colonies in the United States.
Pollinators are animals (primarily insects but sometimes birds or mammals) that carry pollen from the male part (stamen) of a flower to the female part (stigma) of the same or another flower. The movement of pollen must occur for the plant to become fertilized and produce fruits, seeds and young plants.
The most recognized pollinators, doing the lion’s share of the work, are the various species of bees. Other pollinators include non-stinging pollen wasps, ants, flies, mosquitos, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds.
The Pollinator Pathway
Pollinator Pathway energy has been zipping through Connecticut over the past five years. In 2017, the town of Wilton, in Fairfield County, led the charge through the collaboration of several visionary women. Their efforts started a movement which has spread from town to town, with people from land trusts, garden clubs, conservation commissions and watershed associations working hand-in-hand with nature centers, municipalities, schools, scout troops and businesses.
As described on the Pollinator Pathway website (pollinator-pathway.org), community volunteers join to establish pollinator-friendly habitat and food sources for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinating insects and wildlife along a pre-planned portion of land, referred to as a a “corridor.”
Within a municipality, independent but connected habitats—which might include a farm, a backyard garden, roadsides, center medians and the long strips of land under power lines—are planned in such a way that pollinators can move easily among adjoining nutrient-rich areas. Adjacent municipalities can then pool efforts, enabling the corridors to continue across town and state boundaries. The goal is to strive for a healthy and balanced ecosystem, where all the plants and animals living in a particular area co-exist with vigor.
The basic message
Louise Washer, who serves a spokeswoman for Pollinator Pathways and is also the director of the Norwalk River Watershed Association, states, “The basic message is so simple: 1) Plant native plants (perennials, shrubs and trees are all important); 2) Avoid pesticides; 3) Remove invasive plants; 4) Rethink your lawn (go organic, mow less often, reduce the size by planting more shrubs, trees or convert part to meadow).
Other tips: leave the leaves until spring for overwintering pollinators who need leaf litter; leave some snags of dead wood and bare ground for nesting native bees; turn out the lights at night to save the moths and those species that migrate (convert outdoor lights to motion sensors); put out fresh water sources—bird baths or smaller, even.”
At the heart of Pollinator Pathway, is the compelling vision of a pesticide-free corridor of specially chosen native plants reaching across large swaths of land. Washer relates that, as of March 2021, 74 communities in Connecticut (including Granby’s neighbors Canton and Simsbury), and over 236 towns across the wider Northeast region, are participants in the Pollinator Pathway initiative.
Douglas Tallamy and Homegrown National Park
Douglas Tallamy, professor at the University of Delaware, is Pollinator Pathway’s fellow advocate for balanced ecosystems. His work has been an inspiration to the Pollinator Pathway movement, which uses his plant lists and ecosystem concepts.
In 2019, Tallamy coined the term “Homegrown National Park” and developed the concept in his book Nature’s Best Hope. A 68-year-old entomologist, who has a kindly face and the comfortable manner of a favorite grandfather, he is passionate about researching the growth, nutrition and behavior of insects and how they interact with plants. He has been a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware for 32 years. His books include Bringing Nature Home (2007), Nature’s Best Hope (2019), and just out this month, The Nature of Oaks (2021).
In addition to research and writing, he maintains a rigorous speaking schedule.
On Monday, March 29, 6:30-7:30, he will be presenter for Granby Public Library’s and Granby Agricultural Commission’s Granby Grows program series. To receive the Zoom program link, register online at granby-ct.gov/library
“The purpose of Pollinator Pathways is to establish pollinator-friendly habitats and food sources for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinating insects and wildlife.”pollinator-pathway.org
Shrinking the lawn—by half
Tallamy encourages homeowners to turn a portion of their lawns into native plant gardens. He states that, nationwide, lawns consume on average more than eight billion gallons of water daily; 75 studies have documented the connection between lawn pesticides and lymphoma, with pets and children most at risk; and 40 to 60 percent of fertilizer applied to lawns ends up in surface and groundwater.
Noting that turfgrass has replaced diverse native plant communities across the country in an area roughly the size of New England—totaling more than 40 million acres—Tallamy asks, “What if each American landowner made it a goal to convert half of his or her lawn to productive native plant communities? We’d have 20 million acres to work with.” Those acres are the “homegrown” part of his idea; when massed together, he envisions them comprising a National Park which stretches across our nation.
Teresa Sullivan Barger is a leading member of the Pathway movement in Canton. Connecticut Magazine’s March issue features her article entitled, The Incredible Shrinking Lawn. She sets forth specific ideas and methods on “how to create a nature-friendly lawn that will also be the envy of your neighbors.”
Tallamy’s research at the University of Delaware has shown that a few genera (a taxonomic rank used in biological classification that comes above species and below family) of native plants form the backbone of local ecosystems, particularly in terms of producing food for insects. These are referred to as “keystone genera” because their function is the same as the central stone or building block at the top of an arch. In the same way that an arch’s keystone supports the surrounding stones, keystone genera play a crucial role in supporting other genera in their ecosystem.
Regarding keystone plants, Tallamy states, “Throughout the United States, native oaks, cherries, willows, birches, cottonwoods, and elms are the top woody producers, while goldenrods, asters, and sunflowers lead the herbaceous pack…”. He goes on to recommend National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder website (nwf.org/NativePlantFinder) to find the best plants for specific localities. Simply enter a zip code on this site to bring up the most effective choices for that locale.
Tallamy’s favorite tree
Tallamy relates in Nature’s Best Hope how, as a preteen, he decided that the white oak (with its majestic botanical name, Quercus alba) was his favorite tree. Maybe, he speculates, it was because he was “…very much into tree-climbing….and it had branches low enough to tackle safely.”
Fifty-five years later, he was to find that oak trees, in general, are ranked number one, among temperate zone species, in several measures of performance. A few of these measures include carbon retention, a huge canopy that breaks the force of pounding rain before it can compact the soil, and massive root systems that help prevent soil erosion.
In his opinion, the contribution of oak trees to food webs is their leading attribute. Food webs, the system of interlocking and interdependent food chains, are easily understood by the sentence we had to learn back in 10th grade biology: “a hawk eats a snake, which has eaten a frog, which has eaten a grasshopper, which has eaten grass.”
Tallamy reports that his early research “…showed that oaks in the Mid-Atlantic region supported hundreds of caterpillar species—557 to be exact…making oaks by far the best plants to include at home if you want to support food webs. If you think of an oak as a bird feeder, which is exactly what it is, then in most regions, the oak makes the most food.” We are proud of our Dewey-Granby white oak which, according to the State Board of Forestry, is one of the oldest trees in New England.
“We can’t connect the landscape until we connect the people, and the Pollinator Pathway has done that. Each town is a steppingstone in the effort to heal and connect our land by increasing biodiversity, starting with some of the smallest and most important creatures that live among us.”Mary Ellen Lemay, as quoted in Connecticut Magazine article, People Across Connecticut are Creating a Pollinator Pathway for Bees and Butterflies, by Teresa Sullivan Barger, August 2019.
National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Certified Wildlife Habitat program
NWF’s program is deserving of recognition at this point. Initiated in 1973, it stands as precursor to both Pollinator Pathway and Homegrown National Park. Whereas the habitat program focuses on single-family-home properties and the wildlife within them, the more recent movements focus on biodiversity with emphasis on the importance of pollinators and native plants, and then go a step further—into the community and across state lines.
However, all these programs share the same concerns for the well-being of the environment and its inhabitants. For the beginner starting the quest for environmental renewal, the NWF approach offers a simplicity that may be a good beginning point. It is always good to look at all options.
Invasive trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses can invade private properties and public parks, as well as natural areas such as riverbanks, woodlands and fields. They displace native plant communities and disturb ecological balance. Harmful to the environment because they have no natural checks and balances to stop their spread, they can take over an area with alarming speed. Invasive plants commonly found in Connecticut include Oriental bittersweet, Russian olive, multiflora rose, phragmites, purple loosestrife, burning bush (winged euonymus), and six kinds of honeysuckle.
For a complete list of invasive plants in Connecticut, including photos, go to the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) site: cipwg.uconn.edu/invasive_plant_list
According to Granby’s Agricultural Commission, there are 32 farms (a term used broadly for properties with agricultural value) in town. Granby is also rich in gardens on private and commercial properties. What a treat it was to view a selection of these farms and gardens during the 2018 Granby Garden Tour sponsored by Salmon Brook Historical Society.
Along the shores of Lake Basile, Hemlock Road property owners have installed bat boxes and bee houses. In general, there is increased recognition that invasive weeds, grasses and shrubs must be cut back and dug out in order to allow our native plants room to thrive. Native plants are enjoying deserved attention at local nurseries—given special signage and arranged in irresistible displays—and they are finding their way home with enthusiastic gardeners to thrive in Granby soil.
Here is a sampling of some pollinator-friendly activities presently taking place in Granby.
• Reducing invasive plants. David Desiderato, a member of Granby’s Conservation Commission, works to reduce invasive plants. He writes a monthly column for the Granby Drummer entitled Not Wanted, highlighting an invasive plant, how to remove it, and alternative native plant replacements. Recently, he has organized community Invasive Action Days. The second such event took place on March 13. Twelve volunteers split into two groups: eight people battled multi-flora rose, barberry and Oriental bittersweet behind the barns on the Holcomb Farm property; the other four walked up Day Street South to free several stately shag-bark hickories from prickly thickets of intertwined multiflora rose and Oriental bittersweet.
• Focus on native plants. Salmon Brook Historical Society’s Abijah Rowe House (built in 1732), has recently undergone reinforcement of its foundations, accompanied by the upgrading of electrical, heating and air-conditioning systems. It was sadly inevitable that the extensive gardens of period-appropriate plants along the back of the house would fall victim to the improvements.
Now that work on the house has been completed, garden coordinator Ellen Cunha and volunteers are preparing to reestablish the gardens.
The herbs and perennials on Cunha’s potential plant list are noted for their medicinal, culinary, insecticidal and fabric-dying qualities. They will provide a showcase of native plants attractive to pollinators. Included are bee balm, calendula, daylily, foxglove, geranium, hollyhock, hyssop, iris, lemon balm, lady’s mantle, lungwort, nasturtium, rosemary, sage, thyme and peony.
• Pollinator education. Emma Hoyt has an environmental biologist and a farmer at Holcomb Farm for seven years.She presented “Power to the Pollinator” on March 22 as part of the Granby Grows program series.
Hoyt shared that her personal mission is to make the farm as pollinator friendly as possible. “A chemical-free farm is already a pretty good start. Many of the crops we grow—the cutting flowers, raspberries, sunflowers, herbs, squash and brassicas, to name a few—attract all kinds of bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, beetles and flies. There’s also a ton of weeds around, which also supply flowers and/or are host plants to caterpillars.” She and Farmer Joe (farm manager Joseph O’Grady) have many more pollinator-supportive ideas for enhancing the farm property.
• Grassroots efforts. Debby Reelitz describes herself as a “homeschool parent, professional calligrapher and gardener.” Reelitz, her son and husband live in the Silkey Road neighborhood. During the past year she read Douglas Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope; concurrently, she was struck by how much of what life brings us is out of our control. In January she reached out to her neighbors, suggesting that they read Tallamy’s book, and invited them to join in building a healthy biodiverse environment—in an area where control is possible: on their individual properties. Over 30 people attended her first Zoom meeting, including neighbors as well as other Granby residents. Should you be interested in being involved, Reelitz invites you to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
A bouquet of websites
For inspiration, new ideas and visual pleasure, visit the following websites.
Pollinator Pathway: pollinator-pathway.org
Homegrown National Park:
Xerces Society: xerces.org
National Wildlife Federation: nwf.org
• Community gardens. Granby Community Gardens, located on Hungary Road, offers 20’ x 20’ plots for the modest fee of $10. These plots offer the opportunity for those who live in apartments and condos to plant for pollinators. To learn more and download an application, visit PlanetEandMe.com/granby-community-garden
The season is upon us
Daylight savings time is here and Easter is only a week away. It’s time to make garden plans for 2021. As we make plans and purchases this year, keep the needs of our vital pollinators in mind.
“For want of the resources that define monarch habitat—the milkweeds on which monarchs breed, the fall-blooming asters and goldenrods that sustain their fall migrations, and fir forests large enough to buffer winter storms—monarch populations have declined steadily and quickly over the past decade.”Doug Tallamy in Nature’s Best Hope
Bosco’s Garden Center in Simsbury is open. Warner Nursery and Garden Center in Simsbury will open on April 4. O’Brien Nurserymen (Granby) Open Garden Days begin on April 9, 10 and 11 with the spotlight on blooming hellebore selections. Meadow View Farms (Southwick) will open April 28. Coward Farms (Southwick) will open on May 1.
It’s hard to wait to do spring cleanup but remember that beneficial insects are overwintering in the dead leaves and hollowed-out stems of last year’s plants. Ideally, it’s good to hold off until daytime temperatures consistently reach the 50s.
At my house, I will support pollinators by replacing a portion of the back lawn with three highbush blueberries and three winterberry holly. A few dozen of both milkweed and goldenrod varieties will come to live in the little meadow that replaced my side lawn last summer; additional coneflowers, cosmos and coreopsis are a must. And, I am considering adding my very own white oak — our Connecticut state tree. My hope is that my neighbors will take similar actions. With all of us acting together, the
In the name of the Bee—
And of the Butterfly—
And of the Breeze—Amen.
—Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)