What’s the buzz? On South Campus and throughout Syracuse University, these are native plants that support pollinators of all varieties. And this is only part of the University’s efforts in sustainability management.
Melissa Cadwell, Sustainability Coordinator at sustainability management, spearheads who support and help move the University forward in its vision to instill a culture of sustainability on campus. Cadwell has worked at the University since 1987.
Other work in the unit has focused on working with students in the Sustainability Management Internship Program on a variety of projects, including Bee Campus USA and Pete’s Giving Garden.
All efforts and strategy turn into thriving and buzzing reality with the help of partners in Facility Services. Grounds Manager Pat Carroll and Grounds Supervisor Joe Quarantillo work side-by-side on tasks such as fencing and planting perennials.
With more than 50 years of on-court experience between them, Carroll and Quarantillo agree that if this was a dirt-under-the-nails competition, it would be a tie.
But when it comes to working with Sustainability Management on the campus grounds – over 900 acres with over 600 acres of green space – Carroll says, “We love working with them, they’re great people, it is easy to work. They have ideas and we try to facilitate that. This is what we do.”
With a long-term view of growing sustainability on campus, Cadwell says, “Over the past 10 years or so, members of the field team have worked to replace many annual plants on campus with native perennials. The advantage of native perennials is that they don’t need to be replaced every year and they help our native pollinators.
A good example of this is Pete’s Giving Garden on South Campus. Syracuse University received a grant through the Xerces Companya non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon, to plant 750 native wildflowers along the perimeter of Pete’s Giving Garden.
Why native plants? Plants and pollinators have evolved together and adapted to each other in their local conditions of climate, soil and seasons. They adapt to each other’s needs and nurture each other’s well-being.
Native plants provide food and energy for pollinators: nectar, pollen and seeds, while bees and other pollinators set the stage for next season’s successful plants. That’s why it’s a great idea to garden with native wildflowers, especially on this urban campus with its mix of green spaces, buildings and landscaping – a wide and varied supply of abundant habitats for pollinator species.
Common horticultural plants, though bred to be showier, brighter, or to hold longer blooms, “simply don’t offer energetic rewards to their visitors,” says Cadwell.
But we’re not just talking about bees as pollinators. Butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles, other insects, hummingbirds, even bats have a role to play in pollination.
And we’re not just talking about flowers either. Trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, ferns and groundcovers add to the fun, each has its different charms.
Cadwell estimates that over 2,000 native plants exist on campus; Carroll and Quarantillo list their charms.
Trees – red maples on South Campus; the eastern redbuds in several areas of campus, near Slocum Hall and Huntington Hall, easily 50 could be counted while driving around campus; serviceberries on the Kenneth A. Shaw quadrangle, behind the Hall of Languages and next to the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families.
Saskatoon has been new for three years, says Quarantillo, “and they’re getting established very well!” White pines grow wild on South Campus, some with more character than glamour, Quarantillo says. The newest White Pine is on North Campus near the Orange Grove.
Shrubs can be found all around campus, even nearby, including the winterberry at Heroy Geology Laboratory and the Syracuse Center of Excellence; the Eastern Bark Nine with its exfoliating bark (like a paper birch) in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management building near Eggers Hall and other locations; and gray dogwoods.
A wide variety of flowers can be found throughout campus. This short list includes lemon balm, Canadian anemone, black-eyed susan, coneflower, creeping phlox, goat’s beard, purple asters, red columbine, swamp milkweed, and turtle’s head . Many of these can be found just outside the Sustainability offices at the Carriage House on South Campus.
But why the big push now for native plants? For Cadwell, she says, “It started when we became a Bee Campus USA campus in 2019.”
This kick-started an intense and intentional commitment to the widespread use of natives in campus plantings, a refinement of an effort already underway for the past decade. Bee Campus USA provides a framework for campus communities to work together to conserve native pollinators by increasing the abundance of native plants, providing nesting sites, and reducing the use of pesticides. “In this region, Bee Campus United States uses plants that are all native to the northeast,” says Cadwell.
When the University joined Bee Campus USA, it recognized the importance of native bees and other native pollinator species. An additional project has been incorporated through a Campus as a laboratory for sustainability initiative where honey bees were added to the campus. Although honey bees are not a native species in our area, they help pollinate our native plants. As an added bonus, they make honey with a distinct Syracuse University flavor that is harvested twice a year, with proceeds from the sale going back to the hives.
Cadwell hopes community members and neighbors will see how beautiful the native flowers are and will be encouraged to plant their own pollinator gardens. She says, “With enough research, you can find as many native plants for your area that are just as pretty and flowery as non-native plants.”
Here are some tips from Sustainability and Grounds for those new to this field.
Carroll says, “Finding out things like how many plants will be needed per square foot, how aggressively they grow and spread” can be key to your planning and decision-making. These and other details like color, height, sun or shade tolerance, preferred soil moisture, bloom time and duration can make or break a native planting.
Sometimes it is necessary and practical to mix natives and cultivars in a ratio of about 80:20. “For example,” Cadwell explains, “in our space on South Campus, at the Carriage House, we used cultivars. Orange yarrow is an example. The most common yarrow is white. With our lemon balm, we used a pure native.
Cadwell notes that bee balm is a good example of the confusion of common names for plants. Bee balm is its common name; its scientific name is Monarda didyma, i.e. genus Monarda, species didyma. It is a very popular plant, easy to grow and the bees love it. When you brush it or pick the flowers, it smells amazing. But you may also know it as Oswego or bergamot tea.
And then there is the word “weed”. Cadwell remembers being surprised to learn that many plants with the word “weed” in common names are native plants, for example: milkweed, joe-pye weed, and sneezeweed.
When asked if the native plants had worked as expected, Cadwell answered without hesitation “Yes”. In fact, she also says, “I am committed to only adding native plants to my gardens and woods. I also agree to pull up non-native plants as they compete with native species. I currently have a room full of seedlings that I am growing to plant in my garden in May.
The campus may be quiet during the summer months with the students away, but the pollinators are always so busy, as busy as a “bee”!