Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary

Recently we had a tour of Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Monson, MA. Founded in 1939, the sanctuary has 1000s of acres of protected wildlife habitat, and well-maintained pond, woodland and pasture habitats brimming with plants native to the US.

I had never seen such large stands of one of (I believe) the best native plants for New England woodland and shade gardens, Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa). We were lucky to visit when it was in full bloom. I think the area looks like a spooky wood:


Black Cohosh is an excellent plant for attracting pollinators and grows best in rich, moist (but draining) soils such as a woodland edge.

Another thrill for me was to see Plymouth Gentian (Sabatia kennedyana) which is native to clean coastal pond edges of the east coast. Because of coastal development and water pollution, this plant is now very rare and very few wild populations still exist. Our tour-guide Leslie Duthie generously offered to send me some seeds from their population of Plymouth Gentian to try to grow on the edge of our farm pond.


Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) is another plant I have never seen growing in the wild, although I have admired it in William Cullina’s The New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers. Here it’s growing in a sunny open field containing native grasses and perennials.


Mountain Mint’s numerous white flowers make it a good drought-tolerant substitute for Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) for dry areas of a natural habitat garden. Its pollen and nectar are valuable for pollinators so it’s a good butterfly plant. When we visited, this area was buzzing with thousands of pollinators of all shapes and sizes, none of which took any notice of us.

A beautiful field of the native grass Little Bluestem near the old barn:



I’d love to see this later in the year when the Little Bluestem has taken on its gorgeous reddish bronze hues. I’m sure the area is chock full of Goldfinches, Finches and other songbirds in winter, foraging on the seedheads of the grasses. Leslie told us that they always mow this field outside of bird nesting season, to provide safe nesting for ground-nesting birds who often suffer high mortality rates in New England hayfields.

The sanctuary was founded by Arthur Norcross, an early advocate of the cultivation of native plants and the protection of wildlife habitat from development. A true pioneer in the world of plant conservation, Norcross performed many “plant rescues”, saving native plants from development sites and transporting them to his sanctuary where many of these populations still flourish.

A gem in central/western Massachusetts, Norcross is worth a visit! Best of all, it has free admission and they hold many (free) education programs throughout the year.

Click for another (later) article about Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary.


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