Winter in Ontario generally means one thing: cold. This winter has had its ups and downs, but it’s no exception to that rule. As Canadians, once mid-February hits, the thing at the front of everyone’s mind is spring, and at St. Williams, we know that you can’t wait to get back out there and tend to your garden. Did you know that there’s someone else who’s eagerly anticipating you and your green thumb getting back outside too? Our fuzzy flying friends, the bees will be looking forward to you planting some species that they can rest on and grab a snack from. It’s so important to our ecosystem to provide pollinators with a food source, as the number of bees keeps falling dramatically. The responsibility falls to us, the gardeners and concerned environmentalists, to pick up the slack and see to it that the bee population doesn’t dwindle entirely.
Why is Pollination Important?
For one, pollination leads to the production of fruits we can eat, and seeds that will create more plants. As you may know, flowers have male parts that produce very small grains called pollen. The transfer of pollen grains from one flower to another – via insects like: bees, moths, butterflies etc landing on a plant to feed – results in production of fruits and seeds. Therefore, when we talk about the population of bees diminishing, the prevalence of fruit production will naturally take a dip as well. This doesn’t mean only raw fruits – Production of ingredients used to make things like coffee and chocolate will disappear too. It may not be immediately apparent when you first think about it, but pollinators are the unsung heroes of the food production industry.
There are other reasons that pollination is vital to our ecosystem as well. Cross pollination ensures genetic diversity and resilience. The variety of Ontario species is reliant on the process of butterflies, bees and other pollinators carrying pollen grains with them. It also spreads native species colonies, as pollinators will often fly great distances, they can bring with them species that otherwise wouldn’t make it to those areas. Butterflies also rely on these plants as a place to lay their eggs, Pollinated plants act as a great host for caterpillars that will eventually grow into butterflies that will call your garden home. Witnessing butterflies fluttering around your garden will give it a magical element .
What Can We Do to Help Pollinators?
One important step in helping the population of pollinators is to avoid causing them any harm. If pollinators are visiting your garden for a place to snack, let them do their business and be on their way. After all, they’re doing hard work for the environment!
Knowing the difference between a friendly honey bee and more aggressive insects like wasps and yellowjackets is helpful too. A honeybee will almost never attack unless it’s feeling threatened, where something like a yellowjacket can be far more aggressive.
A honey bee will not attack unless threatened, and has a much rounder shape, with fuzzy features.
A yellow jacket has more defined, almost angular features. More aggressive than a honey bee.
I Want to Do More in my Garden
Of course, there are some other steps you can take to help the bee population (and give other pollinators somewhere to rest up too). St. Williams offers a wide selection of plants that pollinators just love to stop at when they’re flying around. We’ve selected a few that you can plant to not only make your garden look great, but to do your part to help the pollinator population as well.
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
This beautiful little plant is not only a favourite of bees, but will also add a gorgeous splash of blue to any garden. Look for this plant to start blooming in early to mid April.
Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
The Dense Blazing Star grows a beautiful purple, and while it’s been used by aboriginal people medicinally to treat things like colic, muscle pain and digestive issues, pollinators also love this plant, and will continue to make it a destination to feed.
Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum)
This species bears a slight resemblance to Virginia Bluebells in shape, but blooms somewhere in the colour spectrum of pale pink to deep purple. The Nodding Wild Onion is not only enjoyed by pollinators, but humans have been known to taste this plant as well!
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadenis)
Wild Columbine is a beautiful, red, unique looking plant, whose flowers almost resemble crowns. This plant is sure to attract hummingbirds, another important pollinator.
Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
The Foxglove Beardtongue flowers into a nearly pure-white plant that will attract a variety of pollinators, namely honeybees, hummingbirds and butterflies. If you enjoy having multiple specimens of wildlife around, this species will make a great addition to your garden.
Doing Your Part
When something like the decline of the bee population arises, it falls to each and every one of us to pitch in and do what we can to avoid the extinction of a species. Pollinators are so important to Ontario’s ecosystem, that it would be catastrophic were the bees to disappear entirely. When it comes down to it, all of us enjoy something that is produced from pollination. Whether that’s chocolate, coffee, or apples, pollinators work every day making the things we enjoy possible. Shouldn’t we work to help keep their species alive in return?
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