Course:CONS200/2023/Lawns to Legumes

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Bombus affinis, an endangered native bee species.

The Lawn to Legumes is a pilot project in Minnesota that hopes to educate people regarding native plants to save local pollinator species and the endangered Bombus affinis (the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee).[1] Beginning in 2019, Lawns and Legumes was passed under Minnesota’s legislature in order to protect their state bee and other pollinators.[2] This program allows citizens to learn about native plants that they can plant in order to increase the population of local pollinators by the creation of pollinator-friendly habitats.

Colin Yang, Pierre Rubia, Emi Ikemura, Emily Cheng, Gilbert Klauke

History of native pollinator loss

Beginning in the 1990's [3], researchers in the state of Minnesota began to see a decline in native pollinators within the area. They found that human impacts and land use change, disease, and lack of genetic diversity to be the main causes. Some of these impacts have been so severe that the bee species Bombus affinis became the first endangered bee under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2017. [4]Empty citation (help)


Human impact and land use change

With the increase of pesticides, mono-farming, and urban development has caused profound impacts to the Rusty Patched Bumblebee's habitat. The increase change in land use from forested areas to farmland in the past three decades has caused the bee population to dwindled due to a decrease in native plants and flowers. Farms growing singular crops and using pesticides and insecticides such as neonicotinoids has affected the bees species further.[5] It is done so by decreasing the available space for native plants to thrive and accidentally killing these important species as the attempt to target one insect has impacted all. Moreover, the land has increased in invasive species brought from other countries by humans which has severely impacted local plants within the region. Causing a chain effect of events which further puts the bee species at risk. Urban development has also played a huge factor due to destruction of more forested areas to be developed for human uses.


Colony collapse disorder has also had a heavy impact on Bombus affinis.[6] This is still in research, however it has been hypothesized that the a disease called Nosema bombi mutated from other bee species to the Rusty Patched Bumblebee causing high deaths of the species. [5] Research is still being done today but research has been found that commercial bumblebees were the cause of spread of Nosema bombi and that it could of entered the wild Rusty Patched Bumblebee population. In addition, bees affected by this disorder seemingly leave behind their queen and hives with full food stores. This disease has been rising in North America and currently around 20% of beehives are lost annually to disease. [7]

Lack of genetic diversity

Due to a decrease in the population size, the pool of genetic diversity has significantly reduced. With low population, inbreeding has increased dramatically and caused the Rusty Patched Bumblebee to be similar in genetics. This can lead to the population of the bees to be more severely impacted by diseases. {needs citation}

Species loss

Many plant species are dependant on the presence of pollinators. These plants often have regulating ecosystem services. In some cases, the extirpation of pollinators can increase flood susceptibility.[8] Loss of the Rusty Patched Bumblebee could limit the distribution of pollinator dependant plants.

Lawn to Legumes program

The lawns to legumes program and its partners offer many resources to individuals in order to teach them how to create pollinator-friendly gardens, meadows and lawns. It is part of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources' mission to incorporate pollinator habitat into many landscapes.[1] In addition the program provides grants to help cover the costs of creating the gardens. Their end goal is to create pollinator-friendly gardens for pollinator species at-risk. [9] The program was first launched in 2019 at the Minnesota State Fair Eco Experience by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, using the call to action "Bee The Change" for deteriorating pollinator populations.[1] They also partnered with Blue Thumb and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design on a year long promotional social media campaign.


Minnesota has 450 native bee species and many native pollinators. All of them are connected with the agricultural system in the area pollinating crops and native plants. Over the decades, many of these native pollinators have been declining causing worry about the future of Minnesota's agriculture.

Program Managers

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources is a branch of the Minnesota state government that manages protecting and improving Minnesota’s water and soil resources.[10]

Blue Thumb is a program under the non-profit Metro Blooms.[9] The program “is a network of clean water and native plant stewards”[9] based out of Minnesota. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources selected them in 2019 manage the application process for the Lawns to Legumes program and are where individuals can apply for grants to subsidize the cost and find other resources.[11]

Native plants education

Blue thumb, a partner of the Lawn to Legumes program suggests planting native plant gardens in areas where grass does not grow. They are said to be low maintenance, water saving, and habitats for native songbirds and pollinators. In addition, native species are said to decrease soil compaction, filter pollutants, and sequester carbon. However an incredibly important factor of native plants is that the species' bloom time and morphology match the life cycles of native pollinator species. While certain introduced species have been able to support many bee species, native plants are said to be the most promising way to support native pollinator species.[12][13]

Blue Thumb offers many resources for individuals wanting to join the Lawns to Legumes program. They welcome Minnesota residents to apply for up to $350 of cost share funding to create pollinator habitat in their gardens[14]. They also offer Resilient Yards workshops through both an online learning series, free to all Minnesota residents, as well as live workshops offered throughout Minnesota.[15] Registration is $15.[16][17][18] The topics for the 2023 workshops are Resilient Shorelines, Turf Alternatives, and Resilient Yards. Workshop registrants also get 1-on-1 time with a professional landscape designer as well as access to the online learning series[15].

Alongside with the workshops they also offer other online resources such as steps to plant for pollinators, walking through multiple different project types, such as Pocket Plantings, Pollinator Lawns, Pollinator Meadows, Native trees and shrubs, Shoreline Stabilization, and Raingardens.[19] These all have resources for native species to plant in those projects. Additionally, these they have resources for Turf Alternatives, and Sustainable Landcare Training. They also have a plant finder on their website that allows you to find species to plant based on light exposure, soil moisture, plant types, bloom colours, and bloom months.[20]

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources also provide many resources regarding native plants and creating pollinator habitats. These resources help individuals select plants for a garden, find native plant nurseries, and combat weeds. Additionally, the BWSR has 4 project types: Native Pocket Planting, planting beneficial trees and shrubs, creating pollinator lawns, and creating pollinator meadows. These projects are aimed at helping create habitats for native pollinators.[1]

Why grass is bad

While turf grass has benefits, healthy turf grass is high-maintenance, often requiring frequent mowing, chemicals, and irrigation to stay healthy during summer months. In addition grass does not provide any benefits to pollinator and other insect species. Blue thumb provides several alternatives to traditional turf lawns that include different levels of variation. Some alternatives, are lower maintenance and functions like a lawn, but requires less water and inputs. Other alternatives introduce diverse low-growing flowering species, and are similarly lower maintenance.[21] The addition of low-growing flower species is linked with higher diversity in bee communities. [22][23]

Additionally, while flowering weeds are undesirable and often removed from turf grass lawns, these species are food sources for pollinator species. Many homeowners remove these weeds using herbicides which are toxic to bees foraging on sprayed flowers.[24]

Program Successes[1]:

  • Within the first year the program had more than 7,500 applications for individual grants of support.
  • Throughout the program applications have come from 84 of 87 of Minnesota’s counties.
  • The first phrase of the program partnered with over 50 partners contributing.
  • Having 100 dedicated volunteer coaches to provide one-on-one assistance to new program members and gardeners.
  • Approximately 2000 currently supported program members are creating pollinator

Future impacts

Potential barriers

While planting native species native species would help local pollinator populations, the seed stock of native flower plants are limited. Implementing pollinator friendly lawns would require partnership with plant seed companies to expand availability of seeds. The quantity of seeds would be increase and the variety would also increase.[25] Native species may also spontaneously start growing on lawns if there is limited mowing.[26] This would help increase the overall biodiversity of cities. Research on pollinator friendly lawns rarely look at tropical areas and non-bee pollinators such as bats and hawkmoth.[27] Recreating Lawns to Legumes in other regions should consider other pollinator. Admittedly, bats and hawkmoth have less social currency compared to bees.

Redesigning cities around pollinators

Pollinator friendly lawns require less mowing and less chemical fertilizers compared to turf grass lawns which would alter present municipal green space management practices.[26] Pollinator friendly lawns have found success in other countries such as China and France, but norms regarding how lawns should look and how we configure cities must reevaluated. Residents to city planners would all need to see the benefit and/or find it aesthetically pleasing for pollinator friendly lawns to be acceptable.[26] Lawns with pollinators could serve as a learning experience for the public and it could foster greater acceptance. [24] Homeowners experience pressure from neighbours and home owner associations (HOA) to maintain turf lawns.[28] Cities have a variety of green spaces such as community gardens, urban parks and recreational parks. Pollinators visit each type of green spaces at different rates. Green spaces must be connected so pollinators can travel between spaces. Pathways could include using small patches of land as flower beds.[29]

Carbon sequestration

Rising level of atmospheric carbon is causing climate change. Greens spaces can sequester carbon, but some green spaces are carbon sources. Turf lawns are always carbon sources. Planting trees and shrubs to turf lawns would sequester more carbon.[30] Reducing emissions and carbon sequestration is essential to meet emission goals set in the 2016 Paris Agreement.


The lawns to legumes pilot project has sparked interest in many urbanites in cities around Minnesota. This program aims to revitalize the native bee and other pollinator habitats in urban regions. The program supplies seeds, information, workshops and funding for citizens to create wildflower gardens in their urban gardens. These gardens are not only helpful for the pollinators, they are also low maintenance, require less water and chemical fertilizer. Hopefully this pilot project will inspire other cities to adopt a similar program.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. (2019). Lawns to Legumes: Your Yard Can BEE the Change.
  2. Oder, Tom (May 6, 2021). "Lawns to Legumes: Protecting Pollinators in Minnesota. Mother Earth News".
  3. "Bombus affinis". Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
  4. US Fish & Wildlife Services. "Rusty Patched Bumble Bee". US Fish & Wildlife Services.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thorp, Evans, Jepsen, Black (2022). "Rusty Patched Bumble Bee". The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Species.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. Lambe, Christopher (May 21, 2018). "What's All the Buzz About? Analyzing the Decision to List the Rusty Patched Bumblebee on the Endangered Species List". Villanova Law Environmental Law Journal. 29.
  7. "Colony collapse disorder". Wikipedia. 5 April 2023.
  8. Christmann, Stephanie. (July, 2019). Do we realize the full impact of pollinator loss on other ecosystem services and the challenges for any restoration in terrestrial areas?Restoration Ecology. 27: 720-725.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Blue Thumb. (2023). About Lawns to Legumes.
  10. Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (April 14, 2023). "Improving and protecting Minnesota's water & soil resources".
  11. MetroBlooms (April 14, 2023). "Our Roots, Our Work". MetroBlooms.
  12. Blue Thumb. (2023). Native Plant Gardens.
  13. Blue Thumb. (2023). Why Plant for Clean Water?
  14. Blue Thumb (April 14, 2023). "Apply for Lawns to Legumes Assistance". Blue Thumb.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Blue Thumb (April 14, 2023). "Workshops and Events". Blue Thumb.
  16. Blue Thumb (April 14, 2023). "Resilient Shorelines Workshop: St. Louis Park".
  17. Blue Thumb (April 14, 2023). "Turf Alternatives Workshop: City of Minneapolis".
  18. Blue Thumb (April 14, 2023). "Resilient Yards Workshop: City of Minnetonka".
  19. Blue Thumb (April 14, 2023). "How to Plant for Pollinators & Clean Water".
  20. Blue Thumb (April 14, 2023). "Plant Finder".
  21. Blue Thumb. (2023). Turf Alternatives.
  22. Wolfin, J. I. (2019). Floral enhancement of turfgrass lawns for the benefit of bee pollinators in minneapolis, minnesota (Order No. 27735269). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2390532660).
  23. Wolfin, J. I. (2019). "Floral enhancement of turfgrass lawns for the benefit of bee pollinators in minneapolis, minnesota". University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy – via ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Larson, Jonathan L.; Kesheimer, Adam J.; Potter, Daniel A. (Fall 2014). Pollinator assemblages on dandelions and white clover in urban and suburban lawns. Journal of Insect Conservation, 18: 863-873
  25. Lane, Ian G. (2019). "Testing the Establishment of Eight Forms in Mowed Lans of Hard Fescue (Fistula brevipila) for Use in Pollinator Conservation". HortScience. 54: 2150–2155.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Yang, Fenping; Ignatieva, Maria; Wissman, Jörgen; Ahrné, Karin; Zhang, Shoo-in; Siying, Zhu (Winter 2019). "Relationships Between Multi-scale Factors, Plant and Pollinator Diversity, and Composition of Park Lawns and Other Herbaceous Vegetation in a Fast Growing Megacity of China". Landscape and Urban Planning,. 185: 117–126 – via Elsevier.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  27. Silva, Jessica Luiza S.; de Oliveira, Marcela Tomaz Pontes, Cruz-Neto, Oswaldo; Tabarelli, Marcelo; Lopes, Ariadna Valentina (Winter 2021). Plant–pollinator interactions in urban ecosystems worldwide: A comprehensive review including research funding and policy actions. Ambio, 50: 884-900.
  28. Burr, Andrea; Hall, Damon M.; Schaeg, Nicole (2018). The perfect lawn: Exploring neighborhood socio-cultural drivers for insect pollinator habitat. Urban Ecosystems, 21(6): 1123-1137
  29. Daniels, Benjamin; Jedamski, Jana; Ottermanns, Richard; Ross-Nickoll, Martina (Summer 2020). "A "plan bee" for cities: Pollinator diversity and plant-pollinator interactions in urban green spaces". PLOS ONE. 17: 1–29.
  30. Zhang, Ying; Meng, Weiqing; Yun, Haofan; Xu, Wenbin; Hu, Beige; He, Mengxuan; Mo, Xunqian; Zhang, Lei (2022). Is urban green space a carbon sink or source? - A case study of china based on LCA method. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 94: 106766.

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:CONS200. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.