Bryan Windmiller, Ph.D., is the Director of Conservation at Zoo New England
The pollinator garden at the Fenway Victory Gardens has a new and rare plant species – the New England blazing star (Liatris borealis, also known as L. scariosa var. novae-angliae). This beautiful native Liatris was once widespread in sandy, open meadows throughout the Boston metro-area. However, decades of habitat loss, increased browsing pressure, and competition with invasive species, such as glossy buckthorn and Asiatic bittersweet, have resulted in the disappearance of native blazing stars from almost all of northeastern Massachusetts. The New England blazing star species is now a Species of Special Concern in Massachusetts.
The Fenway Victory Gardens are partnering with Zoo New England, Framingham State University, the Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to highlight conservation efforts to restore populations of New England blazing star in Metro-Boston. Zoo New England obtains seeds each year from plants from either a now-extinct Essex County population or a thriving, managed population in the Kennebunk Plains in Maine. Dr. Bryan Connolly at FSU germinates several hundred seedlings each year and Zoo New England then grows them for about 15 months before they are planted in the wild. Working with Mass. Natural Heritage and the Lexington Conservation Commission, Zoo New England conservation staff have begun reintroducing New England blazing stars to a conservation area in Lexington and plan to extend that effort to suitable habitat in surrounding towns over the next few years.
New England blazing stars typically flower in August and September. Come see these rare natives at the Fenway Victory Gardens and look for feasting monarch butterflies, which prize the abundant nectar of Liatris flowers as ambrosia which helps fuel their long autumn migration to the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico.
Bryan Windmiller is the Director of Conservation at Zoo New England and oversees the Zoo’s local wildlife conservation programs and its support of international conservation efforts. He was formerly the founder and director of Grassroots Wildlife Conservation, a non-profit that integrated hands-on educational programs into the conservation of rare animal and plant species, and of Hyla Ecological Services, a Massachusetts-based ecological consultancy. Bryan earned a PhD in biology and a Master’s degree in Environmental Policy, both from Tufts University and has worked in various roles as a conservation biologist since 1987. His wife, Dr. Alison Robbins, is a wildlife veterinarian at Tufts University, and she and Bryan shared an appointment as visiting scholars studying amphibian epidemiology and conservation in Australia in 2006-2007.
Photo Credit: New England blazing stars (Liatris borealis) of the sole remaining northeastern MA population, with great spangled fritillary butterfly. B. Windmiller, 2015
Zoo New England’s mission is to inspire people to protect and sustain the natural world for future generations by creating fun and engaging experiences that integrate wildlife and conservation programs, research, and education. AZA accredited.