Building Pollinator Gardens with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

In 2021, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) reached out to The Bee Conservancy (TBC) with a question: How might we make our gardens at the World Trade Center’s Liberty Park a better home for the city’s pollinators?

After several site visits, calls, native plant lists, community events, and horticultural maps later, a new vision for Port Authority green spaces emerged: perennial, self-sustaining pollinator gardens where bees, monarch butterflies, and other at-risk species can thrive.

With support from The New York Community Trust, TBC, and PANYNJ embarked on an ambitious goal of implementing new landscaping and maintenance strategies that focus on nurturing wildlife. Our customized, site-specific native planting strategies are low maintenance and drought-tolerant and help mitigate erosion. They absorb stormwater runoff, improve air quality, and reduce the heat island effect—all while creating food, shelter, and bee nesting sites.

As of spring 2024, our partnership has resulted in a rich collaboration and the planting of more than 1500 perennial native plants at Liberty Park at the World Trade Center, Staten Island Bridges, Port Newark, Port Jersey, Brooklyn Marine Terminal, and Howland Hook Marine Terminal/Port Ivory.

In addition to spotting monarch butterflies and a range of other pollinator species, monthly observational monitoring using the Xerces Society’s streamlined bee monitoring protocol has yielded sightings of honey bees, bumble bees (including the imperiled Bombus fervidus or Golden Northern Bumble Bee), carpenter bees, sweat bees, cuckoo bees, and a range of hairy and black bees.

About Our Strategy

Mindset Shift: Active partnership and philosophical buy-in are essential to success. Many agencies and businesses have standard operating procedures for managing and developing their land, often without considering pollinator health, climate resilience, or biodiversity. We work with teams and within site constraints to develop holistic solutions and plant strategies that fit within their space, budget, bandwidth, and needs.

Photo of a bee and a hummingbird in midair, facing each other.

Wildlife Gardening

There are many benefits — to both the planet and the gardener — to building perennial, native plant gardens. Once established, bee-friendly native gardens require little maintenance, are self-propagating, are beautiful to behold, and provide food and shelter for countless organisms season over season. Cultivating location-appropriate wildlife encourages biodiversity and ecological resilience.

Photo of a bee and a hummingbird in midair, facing each other.

Interplanting

In addition to creating new native garden sites, we took an incremental approach within existing gardens by interplanting native species throughout the current flora. Over time, dead annuals and non-native plants will be replaced by additional natives through natural propagation and intention planting. This creates scalable transformation within resource and space constraints.

Photo of a bee and a hummingbird in midair, facing each other.

Bee-Friendly Maintenance

By providing seasonally-specific maintenance strategies tailored to the growth stage of plants, we arm teams with sustainable best practices that can be taken into all gardening approaches. Top tips include no chemical pesticides, weed often and early, cut back dead stems for cavity-nesters, and leave patches of bare ground for ground bees.

Photo of a bee and a hummingbird in midair, facing each other.

Monitoring and Assessment

We visit each active site monthly to assess the overall health of the habitats and to track bee and Monarch butterfly populations, using custom and Xerces Society protocols. Afterwards, we provide partners detailed reports with maintenance feedback and pollinators observed to celebrate wins and provide a continuous improvement process.

The Bee Conservancy’s Pollinator Corridor at
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

We strive to build as many flourishing pollinator-friendly gardens as we can, ultimately creating a pollinator corridor that supports both local and migratory species throughout the seasons. Click through our photos* and learn about gardens we’ve collaborated on below!

*All photos by TBC unless otherwise noted.

Liberty Park at the World Trade Center

2022 – Present | New York, NY

Launched in 2022, our inaugural PANYNJ native plant garden overlooks the World Trade Center and September 11 Memorial. Replete with our native bee houses, the Liberty Park gardens are open to the public and, as of May 2024, have added more than 1,000 native plants across 16 species to the grounds. The site’s four TBC’s custom cavity-nesting bee houses provide nesting sites for species, including leafcutter, mason, and small carpenter bees.

Staten Island Bridges

2023 – Present | Staten Island, NY

The Port Authority operates four bridges on Staten Island, NY. The Goethals Bridge connects Staten Island to New Jersey and is named after Major General Goethals, who supervised the construction of the Panama Canal and the Bayonne Bridge is the 6th longest arch bridge in the world. Between these two sites, more than 40 native perennials were planted in 2023, and one was seeded to create more than 175 plants in 2024. Monarch butterflies, furrow bees, and more have been spotted (and shared above) among plants like Baptisia tinctoria (wild indigo) and Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed).

Port Jersey

2023 – Present| Jersey City, NJ

The Port Jersey Marine Terminal is a 169-acre intermodal freight transport facility located on the Upper New York Bay in Jersey City, NJ. It handles cargo, including containers, automobiles, and bulk commodities. A former military base, it is now home to Cape Liberty Cruise Port. Four new garden sites feature 130+ native perennials — including black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, and yarrow — attracting species like sweat bees, pictured above.

Port Newark

2023 – Present | Newark, NJ

Port Newark is a cargo terminal spread across 180 acres along Newark Bay in Newark, NJ, and the world’s first container cargo ship set sail from Port Newark in 1956. In 2023, more than 325 native plants, including wild geranium, black cohosh, aster, echinacea, and columbine, were installed, including at a new September 11th Memorial garden, which features a steel remnant from the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

Howland Hook Marine Terminal/Port Ivory

2023 | Staten Island, NY

Originally moving coal to utilities throughout the harbor, this Staten Island site now serves container ships and transfers municipal waste from barges to trains, handling roughly half of New York City’s barged trash volume. The site installed more than 20 native plants in 2023, and a rare Bombus fervidus (Golden Northern Bumble Bee) was spotted here drinking Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) and Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot) nectar and collecting Baptisia australis (wild blue indigo) pollen.

Brooklyn-Port Authority Marine Terminal

2023 | Brooklyn, NY

The Brooklyn-Port Authority Marine Terminal is a 30-acre waterfront terminal located in northwest Brooklyn, NY, along the Buttermilk Channel. It handles a variety of cargo, including containers, automobiles, and bulk commodities, and is home to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Among the 21 native perennial plants installed are wild bergamot, early goldenrod, and milkweed, which have drawn monarch butterflies, bumble bees, and more.

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Habitat Development in Action

To address habitat loss, The Bee Conservancy cultivates and deploys a range of habitat strategies and educational programs throughout our community and partner networks. By providing diverse and healthy habitats for bees at any scale, we can all support bee populations and promote their long-term survival.