BY RYAN WELLICOME
Living Lands Landscape and Design specialist Cynthia Pohl taught gardeners the importance of pollinators at a meeting of the Lacombe and District Garden Club on Tuesday.
According to Pohl pollinators have an important and far-reaching impact on ecosystems in Central Alberta’s parkland ecosystem and others around the world.
“Every terrestrial ecosystem on the planet relies on the act of pollinators,” she said.
“Without this simple act of pollination that millions – probably trillions – of insects are doing all across the globe gardening would not exist,” she said.
“Without the act of pollination and pollinators, the world as we know it would be a very different place.”
Pohl stressed that pollinator health around the world is declining due to habitat loss and pesticides including Neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids are neuro-active insecticides that are chemically similar to nicotine. They are particularly toxic to bees, the largest contributor to worldwide pollination. The compound affects bees’ ability to forage, learn, and recall navigational routes between food sources and their hives.
Pohl stressed that making gardens friendly to all pollinators and bees in particular, is crucial to the survival of indigenous species.
Bees, flies, ants, wasps, beetles and birds all contribute to pollination by facilitating the transfer of pollen from the male portion of a flowering plant, the stamen, to the female portion, the pistol. This facilitates a plant’s reproduction.
“Of that group (of pollinators) bees are the most important pollinators. This is because they have this characteristic called flower constancy, which means that when they go out to forage, they are generally going to forage on just one species of plant,” said Pohl.
“They are going to find the type of nectar and pollen that they like the best that day and they are going to keep going to that plant. What that means is that plant has a better chance at being successfully pollinated and being able to create viable seed.”
Pohl said that other pollinators will usually visit many different kinds of plants and though their efforts could be successful for a variety of plants, they will not be as successful as the efforts of bees.
According to Pohl, in order to create a garden friendly to bees there are a few things to keep in mind.
Plenty of flowering plants with nectar and pollen will increase the bees’ food sources. The plant selection must be ideal for bees in particular. As plants bloom at different times of the year, a variety of plants must be provided in order to cover the entire pollinating season.
Also, plants that are indigenous to the area will provide better sources for the bees due to evolution alongside one another.
The final thing to consider is whether or not a garden has areas that bumblebees and solitary bees can nest in and winter. Bumblebees tend to nest in dry patches of loose soil, usually underneath fallen grass for insulation. Solitary bees make their nests in dead wood and plant stems.
Artificial homes can be created for both types. For those who may be apprehensive about letting bees live in their gardens: according to Pohl, bumblebees and solitary bees are extremely docile.
Pohl is a green roof professional who designs rooftop gardens and relies on ecological landscape design. She has designed many sustainability garden projects and bee hotels in Red Deer and around Central Alberta. She is currently the head gardener at the Ellis Bird Farm.