Celebrating Pollinator Week 2017

pollinator garden
Visitors gathered around the buttonbush to admire its pompom-like flowers and look for bees. Photo by Sarah Farmer, USFS.

On June 22, 2017, a handful of people braved the rain at the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station to celebrate National Pollinator Week.

National Pollinator Week was designated by a unanimous U.S. Senate resolution in 2007. The week recognizes pollinators and their importance to natural ecosystems and agriculture.

Some pollinator species have drastically declined. Many people are worried about whether bees are healthy, including both wild native bees and honeybees.

Since 2009, SRS has worked to sustain the pollinators at its doorstep – literally. The pollinator garden is right next to the headquarters office in Asheville NC. The SRS pollinator garden began in 2009, as part of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative.

In 2009, the land was a sea of mulch and juniper. However, it has been transformed into a floral kaleidoscope with something for pollinators in every season. There are almost 60 plant species present in the garden. Most of the plants are native, and most were donated from home gardens of SRS staff or Buncombe County Extension Master Gardeners.

The master gardeners have contributed to the garden since 2010. In addition to the many plant donations, the master gardeners helped design the garden and continue to maintain and improve it. Master gardener volunteers were also at the pollinator week event.

The 2017 pollinator week event featured a self-guided garden stroll and free milkweed seeds – many of them donated by Sow True Seed. Brochures, coloring sheets for children, and even a demonstration honeybee hive were also on hand.

rusty-patched bumblebee
The rusty-patched bumblebee was once common, but has become critically endangered. Photo by Sam Droege, USGS.

The human visitors were shielded by umbrellas and raincoats, but for a while the rain kept the bees in hiding. Eventually, a few emerged to eat pollen and drink nectar from the flowers. Bryan Tompkins of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was there to lead a Bee ID Walk, and he captured several bumblebees.

“We found a few two-spotted bumblebees and one brown-belted bumblebee,” says Tompkins. “We were expecting to see more diversity.”

For the past three months, Tompkins has been documenting bumblebee diversity throughout western North Carolina. He is specifically surveying for rusty-patched bumblebees, which were once commonly found throughout the area. Because the rusty-patched bumblebee is now considered to be on the brink of extinction, it was listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act on March 21, 2017.

So far, Tompkins hasn’t found any rusty-patched bumblebees. He hasn’t found many other bumblebee species either. Though the survey has been underway for three months, Tompkins and his colleagues have found just 8 of the 21 bumblebee species documented in the area. No one knows the status of the other 13 species.

Pollinators are critically important to both flowering plants and to people. Growing native plants adds important habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. Even small gardens can make a difference!

For more information, contact Sarah Farmer at sfarmer02@fs.fed.us.

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