Plant for Bees, Butterflies, and Other Pollinators

Habitat loss, pesticide use, and pollution are endangering bees and butterflies across Canada. The decline of these busy pollinators puts some major food crops and flowers in danger too. Many plant species count on these winged creatures to carry pollen from bloom to bloom. Only then can the fertilized plants produce fruit, seeds, and nuts.

Did you know that the bumblebee is the chief pollinator of the endangered Furbish's lousewort? This yellow-flowered plant grows in just one area on the whole planet - along the banks of the upper St. John River in New Brunswick and Maine. Changes, such as dam flooding, tree cutting, or a shortage of bumblebees, could wipe out this species. In 1980, it was the first plant to be listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. We can help conserve Furbish's lousewort by protecting its special habitat, and the bumblebee that pollinates this unique plant as well.

Another example of this kind of interdependence is the relationship between a particular species of yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella) and soapweed (a yucca plant of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan). Not only is soapweed pollinated exclusively by this one type of yucca moth, but the survival of the moth also depends on its ability to pollinate soapweed. As it flies from plant to plant and gathering pollen, the moth lays its eggs right where the plant's seeds will develop. When the moth larvae hatch about a week later, guess what they dine on? Soapweed seeds, of course.

Eventually, the larvae drop to the ground and tunnel into the earth. Next, they form a cocoon, from which they emerge as yucca moths. Now that’s what you call a cozy relationship! This type of interdependence is known as obligate mutualism, meaning that neither species can exist without the other.

• Create a pollinator's banquet by planting the favourite wildflowers of bees, butterflies, and other insects. Examples include milkweed, goldenrod, phlox, Queen Anne's lace, common thistle, black-eyed Susan, and asters.

• Make sure the plants are suited to your region. Check with your local bylaw inspector to see that none of the plants you plan to use are classified as noxious weeds.

• You might want to "specialize" part of your garden just for butterflies. Butterflies need two types of nourishment: food for their larvae (caterpillars) and nectar for adults. Butterfly caterpillars generally feed on asters, alfalfa, clover, violets, hollyhock, milkweed, black-eyed Susan, lupines, sedum, and marigolds. They're also happy with trees such as birches, aspen, willow, hackberry, cherry, and oak.

• The best nectar choices for adult butterflies are dogbane, milkweed, asters, goldenrod, fleabane, red clover, winter cress, self-heal, peppermint, globe thistle, bachelor's-button, blazing-star, peonies, and marigolds. Queen Anne's lace, dill, and parsley are butterfly treats too.

• The following plants are favourites of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators:

Wildflowers: Asters, Phlox, Black-eyed Susan*, Butterfly-weed*, Goldenrod, Hawkweed.

Herbs: Dill*, Marjoram, Parsley*, Hyssop, Catnip.

*Those marked with an asterisk are also good sources of food for caterpillars.

• Refer to "Create a Wildflower Garden" for specific instructions on how to obtain native plants and wildflowers and establish them in your garden. .

• Water regularly until the plants are well established. • Weed out any undesirable growth. • See "Plant Project Maintenance Tips" for further suggestions.