New York State IPM Program

August 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Of pollinators and postage stamps — forever

Of pollinators and postage stamps — forever

Protect Pollinators. With these new Forever stamps, released on August 2nd, It’s all about the bees and the butterflies. Here, the monarch butterfly and western honey bee symbolize the thousands (yes, thousands) of native bees, hover and flower flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and moths at work throughout the Northeast, and across the continent on behalf of — well, there’s us, of course.

Two iconic pollinators. Four iconic wildflowers. Thank you, USPS.

In the U.S. roughly one-third of all food crops depend on pollinators.  And of course, we do love our flowers.

But it’s not just about us. It’s about biodiversity. Consider habitat fragmentation. Example? One house at a time, a forested tract grows houses. Then five at a time; then 10. Then maybe more and wider roads, more and bigger buildings.

Fewer and fewer flowers — and their pollinators.

And habitat loss is a biggie. It makes for less forage, fewer nesting sites. For losses in abundance and diversity. For reduced genetic diversity — and increased risk of extinction. Here in New York, among bees alone two pollinators are endangered and eight more are rare.

Going, going, gone? Image courtesy Emma Mullen.

And monarch butterflies? Starting in late summer, monarchs focus on fattening up to prepare for their epic, multi-generational migration to their overwintering site in Mexico, and it’s nectar they need. But a lawn won’t fatten them — or help other pollinators make it through the cold of a northern winter. Perhaps it’s time to consider making of your lawn an ornament of sorts, beautifully framed with flowers and meadows.

Among core values of IPM: building biodiversity. Why? Biodiversity is at the heart of healthy ecosystems. And healthy ecosystems keep us healthy too. So we thank you, USPS, for reminding us of to the beauty and importance of pollinators. All pollinators, and the biodiversity that supports them.

April 25, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The Monarchs Are Coming, Ready or Not.

The Monarchs Are Coming, Ready or Not.

Gorgeous in flight and gloriously colored, monarch butterflies are the glimmering icon of wild nature. As an endangered species, they’re also iconic of all we have to lose in a changing world.

And now it’s begun — the remaining monarchs’ first leg of an epic, multigenerational voyage from overwintering sites in Mexico. But are they too early?

Getting here takes food, and plenty of it. For monarchs streaming up the eastern flyway to summer in our gardens and wildlands, you want flowering plants that offer generous helpings of nectar, the butterfly equivalent of a protein shake with all the essential nutrients it needs. But you also need more: you need the one plant that protects monarchs from the animals that might eat them.

Swamp milkweed. Likes moisture in but tolerates sandy, dry soils and part shade. Fragrant and long-blooming. Its protective steroids are among the most potent any milkweed species has to offer. (Offers nectar, too.) Photo: Tom Potterfield, Flickr Creative Commons.

As for the nectar plants? All of us — farmers, gardeners, golf courses and park superintendents — can help, each in our own way, with plantings of nectar-rich plants that attract beneficial insects. And beneficial insects are one of the mainstays of good IPM.

But it’s milkweed alone with its protective toxins that the monarch butterfly lays its eggs on; that its caterpillars feed on. So of course, gardeners and golf-course or park superintendents will want to plant milkweed too. Many species are stately, short-lived perennials bearing fragrant flowers. (Farmers, you might — or not — have options for happily letting milkweed grow.)

Butterfly weed. It’s gorgeous, no getting around it. Tops out at two feet; does fine in droughty soils. Too bad this milkweed’s protective steroids tend to be in short supply. Photo: Beautifulcatava, Flickr Creative Commons.

Now … for that “too early?” part.

As we speak, monarchs seem to be moving north earlier than usual, supported by strong tailwinds. Yes, they’re finding some nectar sources — dandelions, for instance. (If you must mow now, mow high. Which you should do anyway if you practice good IPM.) But according to some reports (citizen scientists with Annenberg Learner’s Journey North and ecologist Chris Helzer’s Prairie Ecologist posts via The Nature Conservancy), monarchs seem to be looking for milkweed — and not finding it.

As of April 21, “Journey North” sightings have come in from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Ontario Canada … we’re surrounded!

 

Or if the butterflies find milkweed, it tends to be just a few inches high. Question is: can a six-inch-tall milkweed support six to eight larvae? Unknown.

A close look at the map and you know they’re on their way.

Good questions poised by a citizen scientist: can this milkweed plant grow fast enough to feed growing caterpillars?

Since scouting is another core tenet of IPM, be a good scout — and keep a sharp lookout for monarchs, milkweed, and monarch eggs. Three’s a charm!

June 16, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Pollinator week — coming right up on June 20 — celebrates all pollinators. There’s honey bees, of course, but also native bees. In fact, NYS IPM-funded research has counted 104 known species alone in New York’s orchards. Of course, bees pollinate more than just orchards, and 450 species all told call New York home — including two on New York’s endangered species list. Collectively these bees contribute upward of $9 billion in pollination services to New York’s economy — and we’re not even talking the value of honey itself.

Gotta love bats, even if they don't pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

Gotta love bats, even if they don’t pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

For sure: we can’t leave out butterflies, moths, flies (think flower flies, hover flies, and more), wasps, beetles, and hummingbirds. If we lived in the Southwest, we’d be thanking bats as well.

Now, though, let’s focus on bees, since  entomologists have discovered so many cool things about how flowers attract bees  — and vice versa. Those scientists have found an array of captivating “who’d a thunk it” ways these symbiotic mutualists have evolved to do each other right.

Yet before we go down that track, a little detour — pointing you to info from NYS IPM’s “Protecting Pollinators” conference. Start with the first two: Emma Mullen’s fascinating talk and superb visuals, and Scott McArt’s tour of Cornell’s research, now in full swing.

OK, back to our symbiotic mutualists — the blossoms and the bees. Examples? Consider color. Bees don’t see red, but they do see ultraviolet. In fact, many flowers equip themselves with “come hither” ultraviolet landing platforms, landing strips, or both.

OK, bees don't see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

OK, bees don’t see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

And how about the electric fields wafting up from flower petals? “Everyone knows that bees buzz around flowers in their quest for nectar,” reports Marc Lallanilla at LiveScience. “But scientists have now learned that flowers are buzzing right back — with electricity.”

Gaillardia again ... with UV guidance to the goods.

Gaillardia again … with UV guidance to the goods.

Why? That electric charge advertises — you guessed it — a nectar source. On the other hand, a blossom just depleted of nectar needs to recharge its nectar reserves. So it emits a different signal, one that alerts the bees to just fly on by. After all, bees can learn. And they don’t have time to waste visiting pretty flowers if the nectar is gone. Bees might learn to ignore a flower with a reputation for false advertising (as it were) — even after the flower had topped off its tank.

And then … there’s also “buzz pollination” where flowers wait till a bee buzzes at the right frequency, then reward it with a cache of pollen. True, these flowers don’t offer free drinks (that would be nectar) as a reward. But the pollen they offer is, for some species of bees, reward enough. After all, it’s what they feed their young. Note that we said “for some species.” Bumble bees are great buzz pollinators, as are many native bees. But honey bees never learned that trick. (The science behind it ? Science Direct and Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.)

Planting potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers (all relatives in the Solanaceae family) or pumpkins, zucchinis, and blueberries? Know that native bees are your go-to experts in buzz pollination. (If you live, say, in a high-rise with a window gardens and no access to rooftop beekeepers, you could buy a VegiBee pollinator and do it yourself.)

Of course, not every flower does any or all of the above. If you want to do right by bees, think before you plant and focus on these four things:

  • Plant for continuous bloom — pollinators don’t get down time; your garden shouldn’t either. Is your yard tiny? Try collaborating with your neighbors and think of it as yet another form of symbiotic mutualism.
  • Is this a bee-friendly flower? Example: if you love roses, plant those old-timey kinds with the simple “single” flowers. Densely clustered petals just get in the way. (While roses provide little in the way of nectar, they’ve got pollen to spare.)
  • Cluster your plants. Groups of long-blooming flowers, rather than single plants scattered here and there, offer bees a better use of their time and energy.
  • Nectar sounds juicy, but pollinators need straight-up water too. Just be sure to empty your bird feeder or plant saucer every few days. Yes, even mosquitoes pollinate flowers. But that’s not reason enough to invite them into your yard. (Float a piece of wood in the water to give bees a safe landing place.)

What to plant? Variety is the spice of life.

Trees and shrubs: oak, cherry, willow, basswood, birch, tulip poplar, crabapple, blueberry, red maple, pine, hawthorn, linden, redbud, arrowwood viburnum, chokecherry, Rhododendron canadense, spicebush, gray dogwood, serviceberry, New Jersey tea, buttonbush, summersweet, Virginia sweetspire, American witchhazel.

Perennials for sun: aster, goldenrod, sunflower, Joe Pye weed, violet (also does well in shade), hardy geranium, black-eyed Susan, iris, milkweed, penstemon, phlox, threadleaf coreopsis, bee balm, cardinal flower, mountain mint, purple coneflower, columbine, liatris.

Perennials for shade: woodland phlox, blue lobelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, indian pink, wood aster, Dutchman’s breeches, violets (also does well in sun).

Weeds: OK, so you don’t need to plant dandelions; they plant themselves. They aren’t native and some people can’t stand them. But they’re here and they provide crucial early-season food for bees.

So there you have it. You too can protect pollinators.

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