To humans, a grassy field may appear lush and green, but to pollinators it can just as easily be a desert.
Even a typical yard or landscaped garden exhibits rare pickings for native pollinators such as bumblebees and butterflies, explained assistant research professor Christina Baer. Plants popular in gardening and landscaping have generally been bred to have more petals, interesting colors, or other aesthetic features, but are sometimes difficult to recognize by pollinators and may lack the pollen and nectar they contain. need to thrive.
For pollinators, the native plant garden created by junior Nora Hines is a true oasis. The major in environmental science received $ 4,000 for its Harpur Fellows project in partnership with the Binghamton Parks Department to create a pollinator garden at Sandy Beach Park.
The seed was planted during her first summer away from her hometown of Catskills, and she found herself thinking about her dog and the fun times they spend hiking together. During these hikes, she often saw her favorite flower: the mountain laurel.
âWhen we are on the mountain, they are always in bloom. My dog ââloves to run in the bushes, and there are tons of bees and flowers everywhere. It is one of the most beautiful things of all time, âshe said. “I just thought about how much I was going to miss it, and wondered if there was a place like this in Binghamton.”
Her project, in essence, recreates this Catskills beauty in a Binghamton setting – while supporting the local ecosystem.
The parks department had wanted to convert an empty field in the South Side Park, which adjoins the Susquehanna River, into an interactive nature area where children could work directly with nature. Hines proposed a garden with native plants to benefit pollinator populations, which include bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, beetles, ants and birds.
To support as many pollinator species as she could, Hines chose native plants that bloomed at different times of the year and with different colors. They include well-known plants such as milkweed, a favorite of monarch butterflies, and echinacea, which can be seen in plantations on campus. An oriental redbud tree sat in the middle, although it proved somewhat difficult to protect from deer, as well as bushes and tall grass.
There are also lesser-known species, such as the goat’s beard. Because not all plants were immediately available in nurseries, Hines had to be flexible with their planting plan and swap substitutions as needed.
She used a spreadsheet to track plant species, flowering times, plant heights and flower colors, and contacted eight different nurseries within a 90-minute drive of Binghamton.
âNora’s garden is very well designed because, in addition to the flowers, it also provides winter shelter and food plants for the caterpillars,â said Baer, ââwho mentored Hines during the project. âWithout pollinators, most plants, including about 80% of cultivated plants, would be unable to reproduce. “
There’s a human element, too: working on the garden, Hines also fell in love with Binghamton and its people, who walked dogs, boated on the water or just enjoyed the day.
âWhen I was at the park, I met so many great people who were happy that the garden was there. A woman would help me water every now and then which was good as I had to lug these giant watering cans from the river to the garden, âshe said.
In high school, Hines knew she would follow a path in environmental science and was first drawn to Binghamton’s first-year research immersion program, which includes an ecological genetics component. Professors who have had an impact on her educational journey include Baer, ââwith whom Hines pursues independent research, and Susan Ryan, assistant faculty member, who is also involved in the Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program; Hines is an EvoS miner and president of the Evolution Club.
So far, she has been able to accumulate a variety of experiences in environmental science. Wherever she ends up professionally, she knows she will be happy as long as she continues to work in the field she loves.
In the short term, Hines hopes to turn her Harpur Fellows project into an honors thesis, tracking the different pollinator species that appear in the garden and potentially partnering with a social science major to assess its impact on the local community.
She encourages other students at Harpur College to consider applying for a Harpur scholarship.
âIf you have an idea that is beneficial, don’t hesitate to contact it and apply,â she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity and it completely changed my experience at Binghamton for the better.”