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Outdoor Care for Creation: What is a Native Pollinator Plant?

This summer the Ottawa Chapter of Faith & the Common Good, with the financial support of the Ottawa Community Foundation is delivering native pollinator plants to local faith communities that want to support our local wild pollinators with biodiverse habitat including wildflower. This outdoor greening – Care for Creation – activity is an easy one for local gardeners to do!

So what is a native pollinator plant?

Many plants rely on “pollinators” to fertilize their flowers so that seeds can grow. Fertilization can only happen when pollen is moved from the male anther to the female stigma of the flower. So for the plants that need help (when they can’t self-pollinate or they aren’t pollinated by the wind) many insects and some birds and even bats provide that “free” service. With pollination, the plants can create seeds, which will ensure that there will be another crop of plants for the following year but we humans also eat some of these pollinated plants – including nuts, fruits, seeds and vegetables. Pollinators are essential for the production of our food.

Many wild pollinators help with the pollination of our food crops and our flowers, shrubs and trees. Some are generalists, searching for pollen and nectar from wherever they can find it but many are specialists and are in need of specialized plants to survive the full flowering season. This is where pollinator plants come in. Native perennials bloom at different times of year, providing sustenance for wild bees, beetles, flies, moths, butterflies and other pollinators in spring, summer and through to the fall. This ensures that these species that we rely on for pollination can return year after year and continue their important job of pollination.

These native pollinator plants also come in a variety of colours, sizes and shapes to provide a biodiverse habitat to support the multitude of insect species that we have. In terms of just wild bees alone, there are over 800 native species, from the size of a few milimeters to the size of a larger bumble bee that can be over 2 full centimeters. Bees also can be either short-tongued or long-tongued which allows some to have better access to nectar from certain flowers. With consideration of all these various sized insects and their needs, it helps to have a variety of flowers in many sizes. As humans we appreciate the big and colourful flowers, but adding smaller, daintier ones to the mix can make a big difference to our pollinators. (TIP: Add them in a large bunch so that they look showier and more colourful as a big group of blooms for your garden admirers to enjoy.)

Along with planting more native pollinator plants, faith community gardeners can also improve habitat by changing some of their maintenance practices and keeping a less “tidy” garden. Some easy Outdoor Greening - Caring for Creation opportunities include adding a small piles of rocks, a brush pile of twigs, grasses and other material, and/or even a small flat water dish with some rocks on which to land. Many insects also overwinter in our yards, looking for crevices to either hide in themselves or a place to leave eggs that will hatch next spring. Some need hollow stems while others will overwinter under fallen leaves or dig or find holes in the ground. So leaving up some plant material, especially grasses and aster and other hollow stems like raspberry, keeping leaves on the ground until spring and ensuring that we leave some patches of bare dirt can help these pollinators immensely. Spring cleaning of our gardens is the best time to clear away dead material – once the temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius. And if you can’t leave up all dead plant material, consider keeping up at least a third, perhaps in a less conspicuous area on your faith community property.

Native pollinator plants are a great addition to our gardens!

If you are in Ottawa, contact the Outdoor Greening coordinator to receive some free plants this year (summer & fall of 2019) so that you can help local pollinating insects (Outdoor Greening coordinator contact information is available through this link!) and if you are in another city, consider how you can add some more native plants, perhaps looking for them at your next plant swap or when you purchase some new perennials at the garden nursery.  You can also learn more about supporting beneficial insects, wildlife and sustainable gardening in our Outdoor Greening Case Studies and Fact Sheets

Mother Nature thanks you!


Wild Solitary Bee on False Sunflower

Photos by: Viliam Glazduri

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