Supporting pollinators

By Larry Cornelis, President Sydenham Field Naturalists – Special to the Sydenham Current

Pollinators provide an essential service in nature.

Over 85% of all plants on the planet require a pollinator to fertilize their flowers and produce seed. The rest of the plants are wind pollinated.

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The wind pollinated species are the ones that cause humans allergy problems.

Basically, plants with showy flowers are trying to attract pollinators.

As much as one third of the food you eat needs a pollinator to produce that food, (fruits and vegetables).

Losing our pollinators would be an environmental disaster for planet Earth.

Pollinators, such as butterflies, flies, beetles, hummingbirds, moths and bees (especially bees) need our help.

To find more information about the challenges facing our pollinators just google words such as “Pollinator Crisis” or “Pollinators in Peril”.

Bees are especially being challenged by today’s environment as research indicates there is over a 50% decline in bee populations globally.

Bees are our primary pollinators by doing 70% of the pollinating by collecting pollen to feed on and for food for their broods.

While other pollinators are accidental pollinators, getting pollen on themselves while feeding on nectar.

This is not as efficient as bees but results in some pollination too.

There are over 4,000 native bee species in North America of which we have about 400 in Ontario.

Most of our native bees are solitary bees which means they nest individually, not in big colonies/hives like honey bees (which are from Europe and Africa).

Honey bee hives can have tens of thousands of individuals and are very dangerous if they feel they need to protect the hive and queen.

Stay away from honey bee hives. Some of our native bumble bees do nest in small colonies of 50 or more individuals, usually in the ground.

Native bees are 75% ground nesting and 25% tunnel/tube nesting. The tunnel nesting species either create a tunnel in wood or a stem of a plant or use holes created by other creatures.

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You can make a nesting box for tunnel nesters by putting hollow stemmed stalks in a small container and mounting on a post in your garden.

Native plants are the best at supporting native bees. Research has shown that when given the option between native flowers or non-native flowers, bees will go to the native flowers first.

Native plants are especially important to the caterpillars of butterflies and moths.

Most native caterpillars don’t recognize non-native, introduced plants as food, so we must provide native plant species (host plants) to support native butterflies and moths.

The best way to attract and support native pollinators at home is by creating a natural landscape with native plants thereby greatly raising the ecological function of your home landscape.

Consider reducing your lawn area and making pollinator gardens full of native wildflowers.

Even a small 5 x 10 flower bed will attract bees and butterflies. But of course bigger is better for the pollinators.

Supporting pollinators is a responsibility we all should take seriously.

We can create natural landscapes in our own backyards, city parks, corporate properties and schoolyards.

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We need our landscapes to do more while being better at supporting pollinators and other native wildlife species.

Together, we can make a measurable and positive difference. I know my yard is making that difference.

A couple of books I recommend are “Natures Best Hope” by Doug Tallamy and “The Bees In Your Backyard” by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril.

For more information on pollinator gardens and habitats, check out the Sydenham Field Naturalists website, here.

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