It is hard to imagine a world without flowers. They bring joy during times of celebration and solace during times of sadness or grief.
Though the beauty of their form, colour and fragrance is so appealing to us, their true purpose is to attract the little creatures who act as couriers between male and female organs within a species of plants.
The purpose of pretty petals, fragrance and sweet nectar is to attract and reward pollinators who serve a vital role in the reproduction of flowering plants.
Every fruit we eat depends on pollinators. Wind pollination works for grains, but we need bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles, flies and hummingbirds to move from flower to flower to ensure plant sperm contained within pollen grains has the opportunity to unite with a plant’s ova or eggs and so enable the plant to produce offspring in the form of seeds. If fertilization happens, the female portion of the flower enlarges to become the seed package which may be a pod, capsule or a juicy fruit.
It’s hard to imagine a diet without apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, beans, melons and squash. Every one of these depends on a host of pollinators. Without them, much of our food disappears.
For those who say they’re happy to eat root crops and greens, remember there would be no seed for these crops if pollinators hadn’t performed their vital function. Our very survival is dependent on this important group of animals. Any pesticide that indiscriminately kills insects jeopardizes our own food supply. Hence, it would be wise of us not to be squeamish about the little critters and upset about holes in leaves. Our lives are so interconnected with insects that we would not be able to survive as a species without them.
As we recognize the important role pollinators play in ensuring our own well-being and we start to see the world through their eyes, we are encouraged to provide plenty of flowers from early spring to mid fall. A garden specifically for pollinators is an important part of any healthy yard.
Many yards are filled with flowers as a treat for our eyes only. These plants are cultivars, specially selected and propagated for their many petals rather than for their pollen and nectar. Insects have no interest in these flowers. It would be like going to a buffet made up of 3-D pictures of our favourite foods. Cultivar flowers are good for floral arrangements but will not help put food on our table.
A pollinator garden of native plants is a great way to support biodiversity and ensure the well-being of pollinating insects and hummingbirds. A yard bustling with pollinators ensures a good harvest of the many fruits we enjoy from our gardens.
The best location for a pollinator garden is one that has full sun for most of the day. Even a small space can be effective. A variety of colours and flower shapes attracts a variety of insects. Tubular flowers attract hummingbirds and long-tongued insects like butterflies.
Flowering times vary with the species. Perennials generally bloom for only a short period during the growing season. Timing for blooming is determined by day length. To ensure there is continuous bloom, fill the pollinator garden with the greatest diversity possible in the space provided. Early bloomers like the Pasque Flower, Prairie Smoke and Early Buttercup provide sustenance to nectar-feeding insects that come out of hibernation in early spring. Late bloomers like the asters and goldenrods continue to provide nectar well into the fall and help out honeybees storing food for the winter, migrators like the Monarch Butterfly, and insects that go into hibernation as adults such as the Mourning Cloak, Tortoiseshell Butterfly and Queen Bumblebees.
Heights of plants is another consideration. Butterfly Milkweed, Harebell, Pasqueflower, Prairie Smoke and Pearly Everlasting would disappear among taller plants like Dense Blazing Star and Coneflowers. These are best planted at the edge of the garden.
Once the garden of perennials has been started, it will expand on its own from year to year attracting hundreds of different species of pollinators that include bees, wasps, hover flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.
One can come up close to watch these fascinating creatures drink nectar, comb pollen into pollen sacks, marvel at bumblebees prying open gentian flowers and butterflies uncurling their long tongues to probe deep into the flowers. Stinging insects are too busy feeding or collecting food to attack unless we attack them first.
Once these pollinators are in our yard, they’ll quickly find the flowers on peas, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, fruit trees, fruit shrubs and strawberries.
We have strayed so far from our roots in Nature that there are actually places where people do the tedious work of pollinating flowers by hand to ensure a good harvest because there are so few pollinators left. This isn’t the role we were designed to play. The pollination experts have been displaced all over the world. It is just another example of human folly.
Every yard can assume the important role of helping reestablish the intricate relationships between plants and animals that have been fine-tuned over millions of years. All we need to do is simply provide a safe haven for this to happen and then observe.
Every bit of understanding and support we provide to our fellow creatures deeply influences our understanding of self within the context of the whole. There is no better way to achieve a sense of place and well-being than to feel one with Nature.