A person in a dark vest and floral shirt stands holding a small plant pot. Standing under a white outdoor canopy, they are surrounded by rows of green plants in black pots on white tables. There is a red brick building in the background.

Affiliate Spotlight: Mountain Brook, AL’s Remarkable First Year

Author: Dana Hazen, Director of Planning, Building, & Sustainability, City of Mountain Brook
Bee City Affiliate Name: City of Mountain Brook, AL
USDA Plant Zone: 8a
Top 5 native pollinator plants: eared (Alabama) coneflower, eastern beebalm, blazing star, swamp milkweed, joe pye weed.
Lessons learned:

  1. If you plant native milkweed, the monarchs will show up!  
  2. Select plant species not only for nectar and pollen sources, but for hosting the laying of eggs for invertebrates!
  3. Don’t locate your host plants too close to any wooden structure that might attract paper wasp nests, since paper wasps (although good pollinators) will go after your caterpillars!

Since the City of Mountain Brook’s acceptance into Bee City USA in February 2023, pollinator/native plant advocacy is off to a buzzing start! City staff began by attending a Native Plant Conference at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, wherein we were instantly inspired by the keynote speaker, none other than Doug Tallamy, himself.

Then the city began, in earnest, to tease out local native plant growers who don’t employ chemicals—which was no easy task! The city’s first native garden was established with propagated cuttings from the spring plant sale of two local nature preserves, Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, and Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. The city unveiled its first Native Plant Pollinator Garden at its annual spring event, Citizen Appreciation Day, in April 2023. Visitors enthusiastically perused the new garden and peppered staff with questions, learning about the beauty and importance of the 25 native plants species displayed. Also showcased was our new bee hotel, constructed by the Public Works Department, in the shape of a miniature city hall. This bee hotel is intended to attract native solitary bees, providing appropriately sized nesting cavities and shelter, as well as close proximity to pollen and nectar sources in the Native Plant Pollinator Garden.

Through many interviews with local news outlets, public awareness of the city’s affiliation with Bee City USA “grew like a weed” (pun intended!). Soon the city was approached by two Eagle Scouts and a Girl Scout troop in order to learn more about pollinators and native plants, so that they might put that knowledge to use in their scout projects. With guidance from the Department of Planning, Building & Sustainability and Parks & Recreation Department the Eagle Scouts are constructing two separate bee hotels and pollinator gardens in the city, and the Girl Scout troop is working on the construction and installation of a bee hotel in one of our parks.

A bee crawls into a tunnel nest in a black nest block.
Leafcutter bee in bee hotel. Credit: Bee City USA – Mountain Brook, AL

In early June, a lone monarch butterfly was in attendance on the swamp milkweed in the Native Plant Pollinator Garden at City Hall, depositing many eggs along its silky leaves. The transformation of those eggs into monarch caterpillars garnered much attention in the following weeks, and 20 caterpillars took up residence on the milkweed! In the end all of the caterpillars crawled away to form their individual chrysalises, as caterpillars should. This experience fulfilled the City’s participation in the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors Monarch Pledge, and it also prompted the City Hall garden to be accepted as a certified Monarch Waystation, by Monarch Watch.

On June 12, 2023, Mayor Stewart Welch signed a proclamation naming June 19–25 National Pollinator Week for the City of Mountain Brook.

On June 23, 2023, the city hosted its first Native Plant Giveaway as a celebration of National Pollinator Week. Within the first 45 minutes, all 80 native plants were given away to the first 80 people to attend! The native plants were propagated by a local grower, Recreative Natives, who does not treat with insecticides. On hand were plenty of informative guides on why native plants are important, and how to acquire and grow native plants for pollinators, as well as plenty of “free-bees” (swag!). Even though the 80 plants were gone so quickly, staff remained at the event for 4 hours, engaging in meaningful and informative conversations about native plants, pollinators, and our local Alabama ecology.

On to website development! The city is working to devote an entire section (MBee, AL) of its website (mtnbrook.org) to Bee City initiatives, and to native plant and pollinator resources and information. Tab  include: Solitary Bees, Native Plants, Pesticides, Habitat Highlights, Native Plant List, Native Plant Supplier List, Bee Hotels, Alternative Mosquito Control, Shared Articles from Bee-yond, Bee City USA Blog, MBee Blog, Books Everyone’s Buzzing About, Bee, Butterfly and Moth Identification Guides, Take the Pollinator Pledge, Register as a Monarch Waystation, Join Homegrown National Park, Volunteer, Events, New Articles, and X Kids.

Screenshot of a light blue and dark blue menu on a website.
MBee webpage tabs.

As it aligns so well with Bee City affiliate goals, the City is also proud of its certification as an American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) affiliate. The city was the first in the state of Alabama, and the first in the southeast region to be certified in this program. An AGZA Green Zone is a defined area of land on which all routine maintenance is performed with battery electric equipment and/ or manual tools. The minimal requirements for an AGZA Certified Green Zone are the complete elimination of two-stroke equipment used for routine maintenance. The transition away from fossil fuel equipment creates a cleaner, quieter, and healthier environment for workers, visitors, and residents—both human and invertebrate—by reducing toxics and emissions, noise, greenhouse gases, fuel spillage, and waste. This certification program perfectly aligns with our Bee City goals and commitment to pollinator protection, and as symbiotic relationships should do, the Bee City initiatives are likely to promote a higher level of AGZA certification for Mountain Brook.

Three people smile in front of a red, white, and blue American flag.
AGZA President with Mountain Brook Mayor and Director of Planning, Building, & Sustainability.

While the City of Mountain Brook enjoyed the notoriety of being the first municipality in the state of Alabama to become a Bee City USA affiliate, we don’t want to be the only one. Staff are busy organizing a lunch-and-learn series whereby the City will promote momentum by sharing with other local municipalities’ departments such as planning, parks & recreation, and public works, about our sustainable initiatives and green affiliations. It is our hope that we can inspire a local hub of Bee City affiliates!

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