Protect native pollinators


HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA | Monday May 7, 2007
Butterflies, moths, beetles important for the health of province’s gardens
By JODI DELONG The real dirt

PEOPLE ARE talking about a topic that’s been in the news of late, having to do with honeybees that are going missing from their hives.

Like most, I know very little about Colony Collapse Disorder, other than I am worried for beekeepers and for those who rely on honeybee colonies to help pollinate their crops.

The story got me thinking, however, about pollinators in general. Pollinators are organisms that move pollen from one flower to another, allowing fertilization to take place, which leads to seed or fruit production.

Mind you, pollinating insects aren’t performing this task altruistically. They’re looking for nectar to feed themselves, and in the process of moving from flower to flower, transfer pollen.

While honeybees are certainly important, they aren’t native to the Americas – colonists brought them here from Europe. There do exist, however, many different types of pollinators that are native to our country, including hover flies, various bees, butterflies, moths, and some beetles. Hummingbirds, too, are important pollinators, though they are only part-time residents.

However, like so many creatures, native pollinators are threatened, primarily through loss of habitat and pesticide use.

Why should we be concerned about native pollinators? Aside from the concern over loss of biodiversity, these creatures are important in cultivated crops as well as in natural habitats.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation estimates that native insects pollinate some $3-billion US worth of crops in the United States each year in an industry worth $20 billion US.

While I couldn’t find comparable figures for Canadian crops, it’s safe to say that native pollinators perform an equally important role here.

More of us are developing gardens that are wildlife friendly. In many cases, the wildlife we’re primarily focusing on are birds, perhaps some reptiles and amphibians, and butterflies.

But the same sorts of things we do to attract these types of wildlife will also help encourage native pollinators and other beneficial creatures to visit our gardens.

Flora Cordis Johnson is a writer, wildlife-friendly gardener and natural landscaper who moved to Nova Scotia from the U.S. West Coast a few years ago. She is a font of wisdom when it comes to gardening for wildlife and helping to preserve native species of all kinds.

She explains the importance of native pollinators to an ecosystem: “Plants and their pollinators are adapted to one another in ways that have evolved over many hundreds of years.”

Consequently, “the flowers of some plants are constructed in such a way that they primarily feed certain types of pollinators (and) others are constructed to feed other types of pollinators.”

What can we gardeners do to help encourage native pollinators?
Johnson offers a number of pointers to help us:

• Plant a lot of native or very old-fashioned species, sometimes called heritage, heirloom, or cottage garden flowers.
• Plan for your garden to have various flowers in bloom from spring to fall.
• Use plants that produce flowers in a wide range of colours. Different pollinators are attracted to different colours.
• Use plants that produce flowers with a variety of shapes.
• Don’t use pesticides.
• Leave areas of bare soil for bumblebees to nest in.
• Leave an area of the garden “wild,” allowing wild plants – sometimes called weeds – to flourish without mowing or other maintenance.

While it’s easy for a rural gardener like myself to leave parts of our property wild (you should see the expressions on some visitors’ faces when they see my cherished patch of nettles). It’s more difficult for a suburban gardener to develop a wild patch in their garden. You can try tucking your wild patches in behind more “decorative” looking shrubs or plants, preferably species that are pollinator friendly. It also helps to talk with neighbours to explain what you’re doing, and just maybe they’ll buy into the idea and do something similar in their yards, too.

While you may be attracted to many of the new cultivars of perennials and annuals on the market, bear in mind that not all are pollen-producing. I compensate for my passion for trying new species and cultivars by incorporating more native varieties in amongst them.

Jodi DeLong is a gardener, freelance writer and speaker living in Scots Bay. She believes you should just say no to goutweed.

Further reading:
Want to know more about native pollinators, and how to attract them to your garden? Here are a few great websites:
• Flora Cordis Johnson’s informative website on gardening wild (
• The Xerces Society, an international non-profit organization dedicated to protecting
biodiversity through invertebrate conservation (
• Canadian Wildlife Federation Wild About Gardening: Pollinators