My native species bring all the pollinators to the yard

Bee pollinating a cherry tree (Photo by Jaimee Morozoff, NCC staff)

Bee pollinating a cherry tree (Photo by Jaimee Morozoff, NCC staff)

June 17, 2014 | by Jaimee Dupont

Now that spring has finally made its way across Canada (in some places it was slower in arriving than others), gardening season is in full swing! With all of the choices present at our local nurseries and big box stores, it is easy to get carried away with the newest, brightest, biggest flowers and plants.

While these exotic beauties have a place in our gardens and planters, I implore you to consider adding pollinator friendly flowers, especially native species, to your garden. Pollinators are vitally important to our natural ecosystems and our agricultural practices, yet many groups have been facing serious declines.

Pollinating insects are under strain from loss of food sources, loss of habitat, disease and pesticides. They include the well-known bees and butterflies, in addition to wasps, moths, flies and beetles, hummingbirds and bats.

Pollinators are attracted to flowers based on a variety of different characteristics, including:

  • colour and scent
  • amount of nectar and pollen
  • shape of the flower itself

Flowers with bright colours, like blue, purple and yellow, are attractive to native pollinators. White flowers that have a strong scent are also attractive, especially to night-time pollinators. Different flower characteristics attract different types of pollinators. It is best to provide a range of plants that will benefit multiple pollinators, and will offer a progression of flower bloom times all summer long.

Native plants are often the best option for native pollinators, but old-fashioned or heirloom non-native varieties of plants and herbs can also be quite beneficial. Many popular flower varieties are hybrids and have been bred for provide bigger flowers, more disease resistance and other traits humans enjoy in garden plants. However, sometimes hybridization reduces or eliminates the production of nectar and pollen, which leaves no sustenance for the pollinators.

Pollinators need more than just nectar to survive. Consider providing other important necessities for pollinators like water, habitat and host plants for other life stages. A well-known example the monarch butterfly, which only lays eggs on plants from the milkweed family, while the adults will feed on a variety of nectar sources.

Bee pollinating a speedwell plant (Photo by Jaimee Morozoff, NCC staff)

Bee pollinating a speedwell plant (Photo by Jaimee Morozoff, NCC staff)

Jaimée’s five favourite pollinator plants for the garden

Picking a favourite flower is next to impossible, but I compiled a list from my own personal pollinator gardens in Manitoba and Alberta. Find native or heirloom species in your area and enjoy watching the pollinators flock to your yard.

1. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)

This prairie stunner has bright yellow leaves and dark centres. It is also a preferred nectar source of the Poweshiek skipperling, an endangered tall grass prairie butterfly.

2. Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum)

Eye-catching orange blooms are a favourite of hummingbirds. Don’t dig them out from the roadside! Go find a reputable native plant greenhouse.

3. Wild bergamot, or bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)

Pretty purple flowers with an amazing scent (and the leaves smell great too). Bergamot/bee balm is an all-around good source of nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

4. Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

A late summer bloomer that is a favourite of bees in my garden. Goldenrod can also attract native aphids, which bring a variety of other beneficial insects to eat them, including ladybugs. By leaving your goldenrod (and other plants) standing during the winter and clearing it out in the spring, you can provide valuable habitat for ladybugs and other beneficial insects.

5. Speedwell (Veronica spicata)

While native speedwells are a great option throughout Canada, my favourite garden version is native to Europe. When they are in bloom in my garden, they are covered with bees all day long. When using non-native old-fashioned plants in your garden, make sure they aren’t invasive in your area.

Honourable mentions

  • Anything in the Aster family. Bees and butterflies alike love these plants! Lots of great native and old-fashioned options. One of my native favourites is smooth aster (Symphyotrichum leave).
  • The milkweed family. Not only do they provide larval food sources for monarchs, the flowers are also frequented by other butterflies and are very pretty. Low milkweed, (Asclepias ovalifolia) is a variety common to the Edmonton, Alberta area.
  • Sunflowers. They come in a huge variety of sizes and colours. There are many native and old-fashioned heirloom varieties available. I like prairie sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris).
  • Not really a garden flower , cherry trees (Prunus spp.) are a great early season nectar source for bees. A flowering cherry tree in my yard can have hundreds of bees at a time. Amazing!

Happy Pollinator Week Everyone! Now go plant some native pollinator species! I also recommend visiting some local Nature Conservancy of Canada conservation sites. Go for a hike, volunteer at a Conservation Volunteers event and get inspired by native flowers and pollinators!

Jaimee Dupont (Photo by NCC)

About the Author

Jaimee Dupont is the manager of conservation operations for the Parkland & Grassland Region of Alberta at NCC.

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