Natural Pollinator Habitat at Gateway Park

Fitchburg, MA

May 21, 2013

ImageSheila Lumi, Director, Central Massachusetts Art and Agriculture Coalition, came by The Sundial to pick me up this morning. She helped load three donated bags of good potting soil into her van. I wasn’t much help with a bad back. Next stop was Dunkin Donuts for much needed coffee.  I had my game plan for evaluating the Natural Pollinator Habitat. ImageWith camera in hand, I walked into the knee high clover.

White cabbage butterflies (Pieris oleracea) were flitting about. Easy to spot with dark spot on wings and dark tip on edge of wings. One landed on blue-violet blooming hairy vetch (Vicia villosa).  Black mustard plants and cabbage family are host plants. I am uncertain at this point if mustard plant is growing in habitat. I suspect so because the community gardens haven’t been planted yet. According to Live Science, researchers reported Sept. 5 in the journal PLoS ONE that black mustard gives off a specific scent when large cabbage white butterflies (Pieris brassicae), as they are called, lay eggs on it. This odor both repels other pregnant butterflies from laying more eggs on the plant and attracts two species of parasitic waspsTrichogramma brassicae and Cotesia glomerata. The wasps swoop in and attack the butterfly eggs and the caterpillars that have hatched from them, the researchers said. This defense mechanism prevents a colony of caterpillars from feasting on its leaves. (In return, the wasps parasitize, or live off, these eggs.) The study was led by Nina Fatouros, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Read the whole store at

 At least three yellow swallowtails were seen flying about. ImageTheir host plant is birch, cherry and other trees. Couldn’t tell what species of swallowtail because none were near where I was doing field work. Then I saw the smallest blue azule butterfly ever seen. It was smaller than the size of my little finger’s nail. Imagine that, so tiny.

ImageStephen Twining stopped by. He had suggested that a path be implemented to a lovely metal bench that is screwed into a cement base. Right now, it is inaccessible, unless you walk through knee high plants.  Sheila will network with her circles and see what she can come up with. She is thinking that a curved wood chip path would be a solution. Mowing a path might be less work. We found this out at Restored Remnant Tallgrass Prairie in Shell Lake, WI. All three of us agreed that the sound of water was a lovely feature here. A little later when I was alone at the habitat I heard lots of crickets singing. It was pure joy.

 Stephen and Sheila helped carry three 40 lb. bags of good topsoil to a location that was off the beaten path. It was there I planted three mounds of different species of sunflower. I wanted the site to have an annual native plant that would pop color and provide food for birds come fall and winter. I plan to go back after the sunflowers sprout and plant a squash ground cover in between the sunflowers. That way the leaves will shield sunflower roots. Climbing beans will be planted within the mix to add nitrogen to the soil.

I am very happy with the habitat. I did not see any invasive species within the site. Of course this is a preliminary look. I did see some native grasses and shrubs in clumps.  You know I will be back.