Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pollinator Plants

I'm usually the one who insists that the weather really isn't all that unusual, so I'll just remind you that it is late winter, moving into early spring and we should expect some variation. We are having a perfectly normal winter, and a perfectly normal spring... it's just that we are getting them in alternate weeks. One week highs of +11C and lows above freezing, then a week of highs of -18C and lows so low I shiver to think about them. This is giving even my rationalization skills a severe test.

A few weeks ago I attended the Seedy Saturday event in Almonte. It would have been a fine event except for the weather. Freezing rain the night before meant very slippery roads early in the morning and even though conditions did improve during the day we had very few visitors. Which was a shame as there were lots of great vendors there and lots of interesting seeds to buy or swap for. I was impressed by one seed company, Beaux Arbres, from Bristol, Quebec. They specialize in native plants. Naturally I had to buy some... which I quickly planted in pots and stuck outside under a thick blanket of snow. Just dug a hole, put the pots on the ground, and covered them back up. Should work to stratify the seeds; let's just hope they get long enough in the cold for it to work. Beaux Arbres will be speaking at the Nepean Horticultural Society  meeting this month (March 16) and they do have a website, maybe more of a blog, as well as being on Facebook. Search on the name and you'll find them.

Mostly I got a few different pollinator-friendly plants that I don't have yet. There is a great interest in pollinator plants right now and rightly so. Our pollinating insects are critical to much of agricultural, for which, think 'food'. No bees and no apples. No bees and no strawberries. No milkweeds and no Monarchs. The list goes on. Of course humans are not the only ones needing food, but we need to remember that the lack of food for birds and other small critters reverberates right up the food chain and we all suffer.

Pollinating insects need food sources, and they need them close enough to other food sources to be able to find them. This is tricky to put into words, but just think: how is a bee going to find a patch of New England Aster, say, if it is isolated in the middle of a huge area of, say, houses and pavement? How will a Monarch find your Milkweed patch if it is miles and miles from any other Milkweeds? The answer is corridors - pollinator plant corridors. If enough gardens, fields, road verges and the like contain suitable plants, then the insects can move from one source to another easily and find enough to keep themselves fed. This is encouraging news for any gardener wanting to grow a few pollinator plants to attract them.

I found a good website called The Pollinator Partnership which has a lot of information about this. It includes lists of recommended plants for various regions. There isn't a list specifically for the Ottawa Valley yet, but I am told it will soon be added. The list for the 'Algonquin/Lake Nipissing' ecoregion is pretty close. This site has lots of potential as a teaching tool, too.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has great info as well, including some really nice coloured handouts. You would have to email them to get copies, but again, they would be a terrific teaching tool. You do have to register and sign up for their newsletter, but it's actually worth reading. And you can always unsubscribe once you've read everything! (They also have an office in Kanata, on Michael Cowpland Drive, where you may be able to pick up the handouts.)

Another site, which includes a lot of information geared to Monarch butterflies, is the Xerces Society. I found a nice list of Monarch-friendly plants on that site. I was pleased to see I have quite a few of them! And with the seeds I got from Beaux Arbres, maybe I will soon have more.

Speaking of soon, we ought to soon see the buds on the Maples swell and burst into bloom.
early spring flowers red maple trees
Flowers on Red Maple
I looked up Red Maple, Acer rubrum in my trees book and was interested to read that the flowers can be pollen flowers or seed flowers, or both. The different types can be found on separate trees, separate branches on the same tree, or together. That's either an example of extreme gender confusion or of extreme gender confidence! I will have to inspect these flowers more closely when they appear. For sure I have already noticed that some trees are much redder than others, and that some bloom earlier than others. There are several large Red Maples right near my house, and for sure the ones in the Rock Garden set lots of seeds. In theory, there might be one with no seeds and I wish I could have that sort in the garden and not the sort that leads to me pulling out hundreds of small seedlings every year.

When I say 'soon', I use the word loosely. Given the current temperature outside and the 2' feet of hard crusty snow covering the ground, 'soon' may be a ways off yet! Lots of time to read up on pollinators and pollinator food sources and list the ones you wan to get this spring. I'll have quite a few at my plant sale on Wildflower Day (by the way, May 21 this year, see the sidebar), and I expect the other wildflower sales this year will as well. And did you know that the Plant of the Year for 23017 is a Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa?