Tag Archives: native plants

Building a garden paradise for pollinators in Rhode Island and in your own backyard

This week is National Pollinator Week (June 19-24), and here at the USFWS we are excited to be joining in on the celebration because we know how critical it is to keep pollinators around. They are incredibly important to human life, as they are essential to growing the food we eat. According to a 2016 study from the USDA, more than 90 species of U.S. specialty crops require pollination. If you eat honey, peaches, berries, or even coffee, thank a pollinator. But unfortunately, their numbers are declining, which could eventually impact the availability of these dietary staples. The good news is that you can help protect them by providing the habitat and food resources they need to survive!

So what can you do to help? It’s simple: build a pollinator garden. With a little planning and some shopping, you can design and build your very own pollinator garden and play host to so many wonderful pollinators, including bees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other small animals and insects.  All it takes is a little work, and you can provide a versatile habitat for these animals.


Credit: Susan Wojtowicz/ USFWS

Tips to starting your pollinator garden:

Use plants native to where you live 

Native plants attract native pollinators. A successful and thriving pollinator garden needs to have both. Native plants are great because they are already adapted to survive in the local climate and soil, and attract the right pollinators.

Unsure about the plants native to where you live? We have provided you with a list of plants native to the Northeast Region (New England states and eastern New York) and to the Mid-Atlantic Region (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.). You can also visit your local garden store or nursery for recommendations on the types of plants that are best suited to your area.

Plant in clusters to create a “target’ for pollinators to find

Birds, bats, bees, and butterflies (and many others) can’t pollinate a flower if they can’t find it. This is where you can help: try planting large, concentrated clusters of the same plant species, rather than one single plant. This makes it easier for passing pollinators to see them and stop.


While this photo wasn’t taken at a pollinator garden it is a good example of using a variety of plants to attract pollinators. The two plants shown are Jesup’s Milk Vetch (the lilac-colored flower) and Red Columbine (the red and yellow flower) both of which get help from pollinators. Credit: USFWS

Interested in attracting butterflies to your pollinator garden? Here are 7 tips for creating a successful monarch butterfly pollinator garden

Use a variety of plants in your garden

Like us, pollinators need a place to rest and a place to eat. You can help provide this oasis by planting a mixture of native host plants and nectar plants. This variety will provide the necessary food and shelter that many different types of pollinators need to survive. Make your garden habitat a one-stop-shop for pollinators.


Skipper butterfly on a garden phlox at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia, PA. Credit: Frank Miles/USFWS

If you want to learn more about how to create a pollinator-friendly landscape click here

Avoid or limit the use of pesticides in your garden

Remember that harmful chemicals have no place in your garden habitat. Pesticides can kill more than the target pest; they can also kill the very pollinators you are trying to attract. If you find you are having a pest problem, try introducing native predators (for example, praying mantis) into your garden and let them eat the pests.


Credit: Susan Wojtowicz/ USFWS

Still needing inspiration?

We have good news! With close to 72 National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast region alone- from Virginia to Maine- you are all but guaranteed to find a amazing example of a pollinator garden near you.

One of these incredible pollinator gardens is at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. Here you can explore four native-plant pollinator gardens designed for different environmental conditions including: a shade garden, wet garden, sun garden and butterfly garden. Visitors are encouraged to walk among the beautiful native wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs abuzz with bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and songbirds, and take in the plants, animals, and habitats native to the State. The gardens are located next to the Kettle Pond Visitor Center.

Check out these photos taken at the garden at Ninigret NWR below

Or you can attend a public tour of the native plant garden at Ninigret NWR on Saturday , June 23 and learn how you can incorporate native plants to your garden.

We hope this has inspired you to build your very own backyard pollinator garden.


The Norwottuck People of the Connecticut River Watershed

This story is a part of a Native American Blog Series in observance of National Native American Heritage Month.

During the peak of fall in September, visitors to the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge time-traveled to the ancient Native American heritage site of the Norwottuck people (who belong to the Algonquin Native American culture). Travelers stepped back 8,000 years to discover that many Native tribes lived and thrived in the Connecticut River watershed for thousands of years. Guests excavated in a sand-box archaeological dig, viewed projectile point arrowheads used for subsistence hunting and fishing by Native Americans thousands of years ago, and learned about the 1630’s contact period of European settlers. Visitors finished their journey into current day, knowing that Native American Nations still embrace their culture and practice their sovereignty in Massachusetts and across the United States. Walking along the bridge, visitors realized that beneath them lay thousands of years of important history that lives on in the culture of Native American Tribes today.

As the Jr. Native American Liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I was able to tell this story and share my Native culture in the process. In late May, I joined the Student Conservation Association internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service having never been to the Northeast before. Coming from the prairie and Black Hills of South Dakota, Massachusetts was a long way from home. However, I was passionate to serve Tribes in whatever capacity I could. I now work with Southeastern and Northeastern Native American Tribes through my position.

As an Oglala Lakota-Sioux Native American, I sought the opportunity to learn more about Tribes closer to the Atlantic. Researching technical reports of the Fort River Division creation (containing archaeological information), New England Tribes encyclopedia (Bruce, 1978), and “Historic and Archaeological Resources of the Connecticut River Valley” (Galvin, Massachusetts Historical Commission), I learned the rich past and present of Tribes along the Connecticut River. Using creativity, passion, and accredited resources, I designed a Native American Storybook of the Norwottuck, Algonquin people. The 28-page story was displayed on kiosks along the Fort River Division 1.2 mile loop trail throughout the month of September.

On Saturday, September 16th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invited the public to join them in activities to go along with the Storybook. Through partnership with Tim Binzen, the Service’s Native American Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast, and Eric Johnson, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Archaeologist, projectile point artifacts were on display for visitors. Children, parents, students, and trail-walkers alike, got to hold an arrowhead dating back 8,000 years.

EA at Fort River Trail

Later in the month, the External Affairs office of the Northeast Regional office of the Fish and Wildlife Service also visited the Storybook Trail at Fort River and each individual had the opportunity had to read a page from the story of Keme and Sokanon.

I hope that reading that storybook on that sunny day in September changed Fort River visitors, including my own colleagues at the agency. Student Conservation Association intern, Ben Whittlebee, remarked, “When I hold this arrowhead, I feel a little bit closer to the people who lived here before me. It’s like having a piece of them with me.”


Tim Binzen, Native American Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast and former Refuge Archaeologist led the walk and discussed the importance of projectile points in Native American culture. Photo Credit: Leah Hawthorn

Tim Binzen mentioned that all projectile points tell a story of the people. These points were shaped differently and specifically for different uses and those methods were passed down from generation to generation. Christine Eustis, also a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee and visitor to the Storybook, mentioned that she had learned so much. She looks at wigwams and tepees with a different perspective and she understands more of the Native Americans of this area. Several visitors can now identify jewelweed and pokeberry, plants that were and are important to New England Tribes.


Keme (thunder in Algonquian language) and Sokanon (rain in Algonquian language) are fictional brother and sister from the Norwuttuck Tribe in the Storybook, who explain their story of seasons, cultural activities, and timeline events of their home.

The Storybook concept is designed for children, but we can all learn from it.  At the end of the story, Sokanon and Keme discuss the sovereign nations recognized in the United States today. In fact, there are 567 federally recognized Tribes in the United States.  including nine Tribes in Massachusetts, seven of which are state-recognized.

The story says, “Communities are led by a Sachem (similar to a Chief, President, or Chairman). In 1885, English colonists mentioned that it was common for a woman to lead a village by virtue or hereditary descent as sachem. This holds true today for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, as Cheryl Andrews-Maltais is the Chairwoman, leader of the tribe”. The sister, Sokanon, goes on to say, “I’d like to be Sachem when I grow up”. The brother, Keme, responds, “I think you’d make a great leader, numis (sister in Algonquian)!”  

I enjoyed learning about the Native Tribes of the Connecticut River watershed. My experience sharing the story with children and adults in Hadley was so incredible. If you missed the Storybook walk, you can still read Keme and Sokanon’s story through this download: Norwottuck Storybook

The Fort River Division of Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is open throughout the year. You may plan your to Hadley, Massachusetts anytime! https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Silvio_O_Conte/about/ma.html#fort

Traditional Knowledge of Penobscot Indian Nation Influence on Wildlife Projects

This blog is the third in a series written by Jr. Native American Liaison Zintkala Eiring to highlight our Tribal partners and the work they are doing to manage wildlife populations – in honor of National Native American Heritage Month.  

For centuries, Tribal members from the Penobscot Indian Nation trapped, hunted, fished, and collected their food throughout their Tribal lands in what is current-day Maine. They passed along their knowledge to their children about when the salmon returned to the Penobscot River, where otter lived and nested along the islands, and how to collect fiddlehead fern at the right time. This traditional ecological knowledge was passed down from generation to generation – and is now used as important information to bolster scientific research about native wildlife and plants.

So, when Tribal members began experiencing changes in wildlife populations, they knew something was wrong.  Kristin Peet, wildlife biologist for the Penobscot Indian Nation, began researching the fur-bearing mammals in the Penobscot River, including otters, muskrats, and mink. In the past decades, Penobscot Indian Nation Tribal members of Maine experienced declines in the local otter population. Oral histories passed down through the Penobscot people describe ancient sites of otters that aren’t in existence anymore. The decline of known otter sites meant fewer opportunities for Tribal people to practice traditional trapping on the Penobscot River for subsistence. When Peet began her research on the otter population, she predicted the otter would be a prime environmental indicator of the health of the Penobscot River and its inhabitants. Combining the traditional ecological knowledge of the local Penobscot people, their account of the decline of otters, and Peet’s studies, they found that there are new otter sites which suggests a change in habitat preferences by the otter population.

However, the otter is not the only traditional food of the Penobscot Indian Nation and there was more to be known about other native wildlife impacts on the Penobscot River. Peet listened to the traditional knowledge of tribal members who relayed changes in their harvesting practices on traditional plants and fishing habitats, as well. Tribal members believed there were contaminants in Penobscot homelands from the Lincoln Pulp and Paper Mill, which used to lie upstream of Indian Island, one of the two-hundred Islands of Penobscot Indian Nation territory. Many Tribal members were worried that all harvestable items were contaminated downstream of the papermill. Thus, tribal members began to travel further north to harvest fiddleheads ferns and flagroot, a traditional medicine to the Penobscot people.

To determine whether contaminants were present in the Penobscot River, Peet and the Water Quality Program of Penobscot Indian Nation, University of Connecticut, and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife began testing muskrat, mink, and otter for contaminants like PCB’s. These three species were collected from traditional Tribal and non-Tribal trappers and provided the team opportunities to sample for contaminants. The muskrat, a herbivore, had relatively low-concentrations of contaminants, but had high traces in the liver. The mink, a predator, had high contaminants of PCB in their muscles. The otters’ contamination levels varied from little to no presence.

muskrat Tom koener

Muskrat, a sustenance food to the Penobscot people. In tradition, Penobscot elders eat the brain of the animal. The muskrat pictured here is from Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS.

Using these findings, Peet and her team produced a culturally relevant brochure for Tribal members and schools. It is entitled “Wild Food Safety Series” and explains the traditional diet of fish, plants, and wildlife. It includes “do, don’t, and why” for traditional diets, how to culturally and sustainably harvest, and the recommended consumption rate for animals that have contaminant levels. For example, the brochure states individuals can “eat up to 10-ounces of brook trout and landlocked salmon from Penobscot nation waters per week” to help inform Tribal members in how they can practice their traditional subsistence practices safely.

In the future, a “wild foods safety” brochure series be will available and will include other fish, wildlife and plants.

Once the wild food safety series is provided for plants and wildlife, Tribal members will know the healthy sustenance rate for muskrat, otter, mink, fiddlehead, and flagroot. In fact, Tribal community members will no longer have to travel North of the old papermill for fiddlerroot because the study showed it is healthy anywhere in Penobscot Tribal Trust lands, even downstream of the old papermill.


Fiddlehead captured by USFWS

The wild food safety brochures increase Tribal members’ accessibility to traditional foods and furthers the practices of trapping and harvesting that are passed down from generation to generation in Penobscot culture. And it is all thanks to the traditional ecological knowledge passed down from Penobscot people.

The Furbearers Contaminant Study was made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Penobscot Indian Nation and the Tribal Wildlife Grant program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Grants are funded through an annual appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For more information about tribal wildlife grants please visit https://www.fws.gov/northeast/nativeamerican/index.html