New England cottontail
From 2006 until 2015, the New England cottontail was a candidate species for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

about the mural

In honor of the Year of the Rabbit, this mural features the native New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) hopping through floral motifs of pollinator-friendly plants that are native to Massachusetts.

The New England Cottontail is the only wild rabbit native to Massachusetts, yet they have become increasingly rare due to extensive loss of the young forests and shrublands they use as habitats. The vast majority of wild rabbits spotted in Massachusetts are Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus), which were introduced to New England in the late 19th and early 20th century for game. 

Throughout the mural you will find flora native to Massachusetts including wild columbine, beebalm, and New England aster — as well as some of the various local pollinators that depend on these native plants for survival.

The waves that frame the mural allude to Salem’s rich history in maritime trade with China and the East Indies. They’re drawn in a style inspired by Tibetan thangka painting, referencing the work of Robert Beer who was recently featured as part of the exhibit Spirits: Tsherin Sherpa with Robert Beer (Feb. 4 – May 29, 2023) at the Peabody-Essex Museum.

Additionally, in gānzhī (干支), the 60 year cycle known as Stems & Branches, 2023 is guǐmǎo (癸卯) and the year of the Water Rabbit. I’ve apophenicly interpreted it to mean that it’s fine if all my bunnies end up dripping and running from the near-constant rain during the 2023 Salem Arts Festival weekend.

Why Native Plants Matter

Restoring native plant habitat is vital to preserving biodiversity. By creating a native plant garden, each patch of habitat becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals.

Over the past century, urbanization has taken intact, ecologically productive land and fragmented and transformed it with lawns and exotic ornamental plants. The continental U.S. lost a staggering 150 million acres of habitat and farmland to urban sprawl, and that trend isn’t slowing. The modern obsession with highly manicured “perfect” lawns alone has created a green, monoculture carpet across the country that covers over 40 million acres. The human-dominated landscape no longer supports functioning ecosystems, and the remaining isolated natural areas are not large enough to support wildlife.

Native plants are those that occur naturally in a region in which they evolved. They are the ecological basis upon which life depends, including birds and people. Without them and the insects that co-evolved with them, local birds cannot survive. For example, research by the entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown that native oak trees support over 500 species of caterpillars whereas ginkgos, a commonly planted landscape tree from Asia, host only 5 species of caterpillars. When it takes over 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of chickadees, that is a significant difference.

Unfortunately, most of the landscaping plants available in nurseries are alien species from other countries. These exotic plants not only sever the food web, but many have become invasive pests, outcompeting native species and degrading habitat in remaining natural areas.

Landscaping choices have meaningful effects on the populations of birds and the insects they need to survive. The bottom line is this—homeowners, landscapers, and local policy makers can benefit birds and other wildlife by simply selecting native plants when making their landscaping decisions.

  • Low Maintenance

    Once established, native plants generally require little maintenance.

  • Beauty

    Many native plants offer beautiful showy flowers, produce abundant colorful fruits and seeds, and brilliant seasonal changes in colors from the pale, thin greens of early spring, to the vibrant yellows and reds of autumn.

  • Healthy Places for People

    Lawns and the ubiquitous bark-mulched landscapes are notorious for requiring profuse amounts of artificial fertilizers and synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has 10x more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are not only helping wildlife, but you are creating a healthier place for yourself, your family, and your community.

  • Helping the Climate

    Landscaping with native plants can combat climate change. In addition to the reduced noise and carbon pollution from lawn mower exhaust, many native plants, especially long-living trees like oaks and maples, are effective at storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

  • Conserving Water

    Because native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions, they require far less water, saving time, money, and perhaps the most valuable natural resource, water.

  • Wildlife

    In addition to providing vital habitat for birds, many other species of wildlife benefits as well. The colorful array of butterflies and moths, including the iconic monarch, the swallowtails, tortoiseshells, and beautiful blues, are all dependent on very specific native plant species. Native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths, and bats. They provide protective shelter for many mammals. The native nuts, seeds, and fruits produced by these plants offer essential foods for all forms of wildlife.

Plant for Pollinators

  • Habitat opportunities abound on every landscape – from window boxes to acres of farms to corporate campuses to utility and roadside corridors – every site can be habitat.
  • Utilize plants native to your area (or at the least, non-invasive for your area).
  • Utilize the Ecoregional Planting Guides and the Garden Recipe Cards to create or enhance your pollinator garden. Decide among the plant material options – seeds, plugs, plants or a combination.
  • Know your soil type and select appropriate plant material.
  • Plant in clusters to create a “target’ for pollinators to find.
  • Plant for continuous bloom throughout the growing season from spring to fall.
  • Select a site that is removed from wind, has at least partial sun, and can provide water.
  • Allow material from dead branches and logs remain as nesting sites; reduce mulch to allow patches of bare ground for ground-nesting bees to utilize; consider installing wood nesting blocks for wood-nesting natives.

Reduce or Eliminate the Impact of Pesticides

  • Check out the Pesticides Learning Center on the Pollinator Partnership website to learn more about the interactions between pollinators and pesticides!
  • Where possible, avoid pest problems in the first place by burying infested plant residues, removing pest habitat, and planting native plants that encourage natural enemies of pests.
  • Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
  • If you are a farmer or pesticide applicator, check out our Pesticide Education Module.
  • If you must use pesticides, read and follow ALL label directions carefully.

Support Local Bees and Beekeepers

  • Buying local honey supports the beekeepers in your area.
  • If you’re concerned about the number of chemicals use in agriculture, buy organic.
  • If you’re concerned about contributions to global carbon emissions, buy local.

Conserve all of our resources; use less and reduce your impact.

  • Pollinators are dramatically affected by extremes in weather.
  • Climate change puts pressure on native ranges and overwintering sites.

Reach out to others - inform and inspire

  • Utilize all the materials available to help you tell the story of pollinators.
  • Especially during National Pollinator Week (June 19-25, 2023).
  • Tell local and state government officials that you care about pollinator health.

Native Plants in the Mural

Want to introduce more native plants to your yard or garden?

By starting a native pollinator-friendly garden, you can make a significant difference in supporting pollinators, promoting biodiversity, and creating a more sustainable and resilient natural environment.

You can narrow down your search for the best native Northeast plants given your local conditions and goals at the Native Plant Trust's Plant Finder.

Meet the Pollinators

Pollinators are creatures that help plants reproduce by spreading a powdery material called pollen among flowers of the same species. Animals, primarily bees, pollinate a majority of fruits and vegetables (non-grain crops) used in agriculture. Pollinators don’t just help plants; they rely on the rewards plants provide, such as energy-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen, to survive and reproduce.

circle - Golden northern bumble bee
Golden northern bumble bee (Bombus fervidus) © wyldewastelander,


Besides European honeybees, there are more than 365 bee species documented in Massachusetts. Adult bees eat nectar; they feed their young a mix of pollen and nectar.

circle - Northern paper wasp
Northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) © Whitney Cranshaw,


Wasps visit flowers to consume energy-rich nectar and sometimes pollen. As predators, wasps spend most of their time looking for insects to feed their young while foraging at flowers.

circle - Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) © Jay McGowan,


Butterflies and moths lay eggs on or near the vegetation they eat as caterpillars; these food plants are known as “host plants.” As adults, they consume nectar from flowers and sugar from sap and fruit.

circle - Giant leopard moth
Giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia) © rxk04,


While butterflies and some moths are busy pollinating during the day, most species of moths take over after dark. Moths are more hairy than butterflies which help in pollination. Moths love tubular blooms which make it easy for them to drink the nectar.

circle - Tumbling Ragdoll
Tumbling Ragdoll (Mordella marginata) © ipat,


The fossil record suggests that beetles were the first pollinators of flowering plants!

Adult beetles feed on pollen and the flower itself. Pollen becomes trapped on their bodies and spreads between flowers.

circle - Flower Fly
Flower fly (Syrphus ribesii) © walwyn,


Some flies, such as flower flies and bee flies, are important pollinators. They visit flowers to consume pollen and nectar; in the process, sticky pollen becomes attached to their bodies.

Many flies mimic wasps and bees in their shape and coloration, partly so that predators will avoid them.

circle - Ruby-throated hummingbird
Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) © bellemare celine,


Hummingbirds need a great deal of food to keep energized, so they visit flowers that provide a lot of nectar, such as the cardinal flower. Pollen sticks to the feathers around the bird’s bill and face and is carried to the next flower.

circle - Eastern red bat
Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) © Joseph Morlan,


...but not in MA

Nectar-feeding bats also pollinate plants, but are not typically found in Massachusetts—our native bats are mostly insectivores. The only bats that pollinate in the United States are in the southwest where they feed on agaves and cactus.

Pollinators in the mural

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Additional Resources

  • Choosing Pollinator-Friendly Native Plants in Home Gardening or Landscaping (

    Tools for developing pollinator-friendly landscapes using native plant species, from Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Whether you are interested in improving pollinator resources on your own property, looking for guidance developing a landscaping plan, or trying to determine which native plant species to stock for sale, these curated lists of native, pollinator-friendly container plants and seeds will help you make the right decisions.

  • Native Pollinators (

    The Center's Native Pollinators campaign ties together modern domestic land-use issues in the context of pollinator conservation to provide relevant information and action opportunities to supporters who are rightfully concerned about the health of native pollinators.

  • Plants For Birds (

    Native plants help support our birds throughout the year. Growing bird-friendly plants will attract and protect the birds you love while making your space beautiful, easy to care for, and better for the environment.