Guest blog by Dr. Alejandro Fierro, Associate Professor, Committee Co-Chair, Bee Campus USA - University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Dr. Julie Mustard, Associate Professor, Committee Member, Bee Campus USA - University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
The Rio Grande valley contains a unique habitat that provides a home for over 230 species of butterflies and 60 species of native bees; however, much of the native habitat has been fragmented by agriculture and urban development. Less than 5% of the original ecosystem remains. Seeing the opportunity to sustain native species while also involving students and the broader community in conservation of plants and pollinators, a group of faculty and students were awarded funds through the Transforming Our World initiative at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) to establish a pollinator garden on the Brownsville campus. (Learn more about the garden at the pollinator garden website: www.utrgv.edu/pollinatorcantina.)
Recognizing that the goals of Bee Campus USA to improve pollinator habitat and health aligned with those of UTRGV, we applied to become a Bee Campus USA affiliate and achieved certification in August 2018. The Bee Campus Committee is made up of faculty, students, and grounds maintenance staff.
Education & Outreach
Earth Fest: This event was attended by over 1,000 students, staff, and community members. Those who stopped by were also able to examine native bees and honey bees under the microscope to observe how pollen is carried by bees between flowers. The Bee Campus booth also included a display of live honey bees. Pollinator plant seeds were distributed. Additionally, participants learned about plastic pollution, solar energy, water conservation, and stormwater management.
Butterfly identification: Students went to Resaca de la Palma State Park for a butterfly identification training session with Park Ranger Kelly Cummins. Ranger Cummins provided information on how best to observe butterflies using binoculars specifically designed for butterfly viewing and helped students identify the butterflies they were viewing. This workshop helped prepare our campus to participate in the National Butterfly Count.
HESTEC: Families participated in activities to learn about the importance of pollinators as part of the Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology (HESTEC) Week community day.
Rio Reforestation: Over 100 UTRGV student, staff, and faculty volunteers participated in this years’ Rio Reforestation event, planting seedlings at the La Sal Del Rey tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This is the refuge’s major annual event, drawing hundreds of volunteers from across the lower Rio Grande valley who spend a half day planting native trees and shrubs. Nearly all species planted are pollinated by native insects and birds and many are host plants for larval stages, enhancing pollinator habitat in the region.
Pollinator Health & Habitat
The newly created pollinator garden was constructed by student and community volunteers. Members of the facilities staff also volunteered their time.
The garden contains 15 beds equipped with a drip irrigation system, has more than 30 species of native plants, provides native bee nesting spots, and has a butterfly puddling station. Reclaimed brick and city compost were used to prepare the beds.
In addition to the main pollinator garden on the Brownsville campus, several smaller gardens featuring pollinator friendly plants have been established on the Edinburg campus.
At the beginning of 2020, a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service provided funds to extend the pollinator garden. The expansion is currently underway with 16 additional beds.
Several courses including Introductory Biology and Ecology incorporate service learning in the garden. Students participate in garden construction and maintenance, in doing so learning about soil amendments and drip irrigation as well as native plants and pollinator friendly practices.
Additionally, students in the Ecology course take their knowledge out into the community. For example, students created activities about pollinators that were presented at the Brownsville Children's Museum and seeds for pollinator plants were distributed during Earth Fest celebrations.
Curriculum & Continuing Education
The pollinator garden has been used in multiple courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Introductory Biology students learn to identify insects and keep a record of which insects they see on which plants.
As part of the undergraduate Ecology course, students participated in a workshop on drip irrigation and water conservation hosted by the Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement at UTRGV. Students were then able to apply what they learned by installing the drip irrigation system in the garden.
As part of the graduate Plant–Animal Interactions course, students designed and carried out projects that utilized the garden.
Educational & Interpretative Signage
Signs in the garden identify native plants and the pollinators with which they are most associated. In addition, we are in the process of making signs identifying native trees on campus that supply pollen and nectar, or serve as larval hosts for pollinators. These signs will include both English and Spanish text.
Policies & Practices
UTRGV has a pollinator-friendly integrated pest management plan available at: https://reports.aashe.org/media/secure/1017/7/659/5033/UTRGV%20Integrated%20Pest%20Management.pdf
A list of the pollinator plants used in the Pollinator Cantina is available under “About the Garden” at:
Other pollinator plant lists for the Rio Grande Valley are available online at:
Local suppliers of native plant species:
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA coordinator and Xerces Society.