Nestled between rolling hills, just inside the Cummington line, is a brimming oasis. The lifegiving respite found within its confines isn’t water or anything you might expect to see, indeed it might be hard to recognize as an oasis at all! Unless of course, you view it through the eyes of a caterpillar, or a bumblebee, or even a local songbird.
Wing and a Prayer Nursery exclusively cultivates native flora with the intent to bolster the pollen and nectar available to those who urgently need it. Amy grows over 250 species of native plants from seed. These seeds are sown in flats throughout the fall and winter and protectively boxed in against eager mole incursions. They sleep under the blanket of snow until they emerge in the spring, stratified by the New England winter. The warmer season brings young sprouts, which then are transplanted into plugs and pots. Either to be planted on the property by Amy or to go home with one of the many people recently getting on board with the movement.
Outside of a single space heater for a couple of weeks in early spring, Wing and a Prayer uses no fossil fuel and all plants are organically grown, Amy is able to divest from energy sources that run counter to her overarching plan and vision. But what is that plan? And how is her land such a resource to the critters who live around her?
We’ve all heard the dire warnings, and seen the charts. Global climate change is upon our horizon, it’s here, and it’s been driving people to look for alternative energy sources for decades now. And that’s where so much of the attention and capital investment has been, on the things that can be turned around for a profit. But we’re also experiencing a much quieter human-made disaster simultaneously: the extinction of our pollinators is directly linked to the loss of native plant diversity, impoverished habitat, pesticide use, and climate change.
The line moves back daily. As concrete creeps, as non-native species of grass are cultivated to be the only green spaces available in lawns and parks, and as “weeds” are uprooted and sprayed with herbicides to prevent their seeds from spreading. We are at the tipping point, there is little to no exposure for this issue and we’re crossing lines before most of us realize they exist. But Amy wouldn’t be circling the wagons if nothing could be done, there are actionable paths forward dear reader, as you read this Wing and a Prayer remains a rallying point for those who want to pitch in.
At the forefront of this battle are some great minds, folks who are identifying the avenues we can pursue right here at home. One such committed researcher who has turned to tackle this growing issue here in Massachusetts is Dr. Robert Gegear, a biologist who’s been tracking the needs of bumblebee species. He has developed a list of key native plants that provide pollen and nectar to the at-risk bumblebees, small bees, as well as plants that host the caterpillars of at-risk butterfly and moth species. He’s working hard, in the lab and in the field, to hone that list and expand our understanding of this problem, but for now, his list acts as a lighthouse diverting our collective ship from the rocks.
The reason Amy’s little property is such a huge resource is that she is committed to providing habitat. That includes everything from the food, to nest-sites, overwintering cover, and water sources which are all needed to support native pollinators. This means from the earliest spring blooms to the last viable moment in fall: she has planted a diversity of native plant resources to be available at all points in the timeline. It means readily available pollen and nectar from herbaceous flowers, shrubs, and trees but it also means providing very specific host plants that have co-evolved with local species of caterpillars and the many specialist bees. The pollen harvested by bees is vital to the reproduction of the next generation of bees.
To give you some perspective: 95% of birds feed their young insects, and a large percentage of those insects are protein-rich caterpillars, and it takes thousands of caterpillars just to raise one clutch of hatchlings. The birds spread the seeds, and the seeds sprout and feed the bugs.
As important as this cycle is, in and of itself, it’s easy to distance ourselves from it. But in truth, our human lives are dependent on healthy ecosystems, which rely on a rich diversity of native plants and pollinators. We depend on this circle or we face the same dire consequences as the tiny bugs who complete it.
I asked what action, what one thing someone might do. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Amy struggled to find one plant that sums up the needs of our ecological neighbors, in her words: if you have wetlands then the early blooming native willows are invaluable, if you want a beautiful plant for a sunny spot Blue Sage (Salvia Azurea) is one of her favorites. But realistically a diverse combination of plants and trees, that grow in your mini-eco system is ideal, and there are plenty of resources to find what part you might play in this rescue mission. The easiest, most accessible, committed, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic resource is right here in Cummington.
I could describe the fantastic walk Amy took me on, the experience of seeing her land as a vast source of essential building blocks for the community of critters. How she subverted the usually destructive elements of modern construction (repercussions of septic and solar installations) into projects designed to both bring immediate aid to our area while providing ongoing experiments and field research for the people who can find solutions to these issues. But I would fall short of the true experience, so the easiest way to make a difference, that I could suggest to members, would be to visit Wing and a Prayer Nursery in person.
Wing and a Prayer Nursery
is open Sunday and Monday from
9 am – 3 pm
Feel free to stop over during those hours.
But plan a trip any other time by making an appointment.
Amy would love to share her experience of this work, and that’s the very best way to plug into this growing movement.
We need to dramatically increase habitat that supports life, and it can be as simple as a handful of native starters instead of reseeding your lawn.
Wing and a Prayer Nursery: HERE
Mass.gov Pollinator Resources: HERE
Grow Native Mass: https://grownativemass.org/
Wild Seed Project: https://wildseedproject.net/
Dr. Robert Gegear’s work: https://gegearlab.weebly.com/