Pollen Nation at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Pollen Nation was launched in 2019 as an umbrella for and expansion of Zoo projects related to pollinators. Our Buzz Troop Research, trialing, Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators, beekeeping and other programs were combined and assigned the mission to inspire landowners in the region, and in particular our 1.7 million visitors, to enact conservation at home by planting for pollinators.
The current components of the program include Plant Trialing, the Plant for Pollinators Challenge, beekeeping, Bowyer Farm conservation efforts, and significant education and outreach.
We have been trialing plants for decades. In the last ten years these efforts have been expanded and formalized to create Zoo’s Best lists of recommended plants. A cross-pollination of this program and our Buzz Troop program led to Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators.
The Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators (ZBPP) is a branded selection of plants that were found to perform well, look great, and support pollinators in our trialing. Local growers for annuals and for perennials were signed on, and these plants are now sold in specially labeled containers at approximately twenty local independent garden centers. A portion of each sale is returned to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden to support more trialing.
Three years ago, we began a program called Buzz Troop. Teenage volunteers are assigned a camera and spend time in the Zoo taking pictures of pollinators feeding on flowers. These photos are uploaded to iNaturalist. We use them, in part, to determine which pollinators visit the Zoo, which are the most common, and which flowers they seem to favor.
ZBPP has resulted in appropriate plant information appearing on flyers, brochures, a pocket guide, and on our website. We are constantly working to encourage more gardening for pollinators and to help gardeners succeed through science-based advice and helpful plants recommendations.
Plant for Pollinators Challenge
The Plant for Pollinators Challenge began in 2019 with a grant from the Duke Foundation. Its goal is to foster pollinator conservation in our region by inspiring the planting of at least 500 registered pollinator gardens by the end of the year. To broaden our reach, partners such as extension offices, garden centers, nurseries, botanical gardens, parks, environmental groups, land preservations groups, and others with a similar mission of growing plants for pollinators were invited to participate.
To date, a month after the launch and with promotion just beginning, we stand at 135 registered gardens and 35 partners.
When people register their garden—and gardens can be small or even containers—they receive a certificate, have an option to buy a yard sign, and their garden appears on a map.
Interest by sponsors was almost immediate. We now have a Pollen Nation sponsor and enjoyed a partnering program with a local company. We expect more similar sponsorships and corporate partnerships.
The Zoo maintains active bee hives both at the CZBG and our Bowyer Farm in Warren County, Ohio, and staff frequently demonstrate practices and give presentations.
The Zoo was bequeathed a farm in Warren County. A sizeable portion of the land has been converted back to its original wetland state. Prairies and many trees have been planted, bee hives are maintained, and a nursery for pollinator and native plants has been established, and research is being conducted. Access has been improved to allow for group visits. At least four plant sales are scheduled for 2019.
Zoo Engagement, Events, and Outreach
These programs are also supported by efforts to raise awareness and excite our visitors and people in the region. We accomplish this through a variety of visitor engagement, events, and outreach.
2019 Visitor Engagement
- Demonstration pollinator gardens
- ZBPP plants labeled as such throughout the gardens
- Keeper chats at animal exhibits which tie pollinators to the subject matter
- Pollinator selfie station with information
- A What’s in Bloom ladder with information
- Volunteers at our Botanical Garden cart
- Pollinator educational signage
- Plant labels indicating ZBPP plants
- Gift shop items focused on pollinators
- Mason bee houses
- Active bee hives
- Insectarium Exhibit
- Pollinator Info Booth at the Bunbury Music Festival, May 31st – June 2nd
- Pollen Nation table at the Earth Day Party for the Planet, April 25th
- Plant sales in May, June, July, and September
- Pollinator Carnival, June 22nd
- Plant Trials Day Symposium, August 29th
- Tree Carnival, September 28th
- Monarch Festival, September 21st
- Native Plant Symposium
- Website information
- Formidable social media reach
- Frequent television and radio appearances
- Magazine articles, blogs, and other publications
- Plant trials reports
- Speaking engagements at industry conferences and symposiums, meetings, Master Gardener events, garden clubs, and other similar events
- Monthly or more frequent newsletters to ZBPP participants during the growing season
- Monthly newsletters to Plant for Pollinators Challenge participants during the growing season
- Garden center appearances by staff