We’re celebrating Pollinator Week by profiling some of the vibrant native plant and pollinator partnerships in our watershed. Pollinators play an important role in sustaining our ecosystems and our food supply by transferring pollen to support plant reproduction. Choosing the right plants for the right place will support pollinators and protect biodiversity, whether at home, at work, or in the field. Here are some of our favourites that local pollinators also love.
At the office: Cardinal flower
Delight staff, visitors, or volunteers by adding cardinal flower to your corporate gardens. This eye-catching native perennial will add radiance to your property while also attracting the attention of ruby-throated hummingbirds. They seek out the nourishing nectar in the deep, bell-shaped blooms.
Cardinal flower relies on hummingbirds for pollination. It’s believed the bill of the hummingbird co-evolved with the size and shape of the flower so it could reach the nectar hidden within.
Growing 60-120 centimetres tall and preferring wet soil, cardinal flower makes a great addition to a rain garden or in naturalized wet or marshy areas of your property.
Ruby-throated hummingbird improves office-window views
The feisty ruby-throated hummingbird will leave you spellbound as they hover in motion, flapping their wings more than fifty times per second. The only hummingbird species native to Ontario, these super-fast but precise acrobats get their name from the dazzling ruby patch on the male’s throat.
Bright tubular flowers, such as cardinal flower and columbine, will attract these tiny birds to your corporate property to the delight of staff and visitors. They’ll also help keep your corporate gardens blooming each year by transferring pollen from flower to flower as they feast on the nectar hidden within these blooms.
Bring pollinators to work: plant a pollinator garden on your corporate property. We can help. Learn more.
In your urban garden: Lance-leaved coreopsis
The stunning, daisy-like flowers of lance-leaved coreopsis add summer-long cheer to your pollinator-friendly garden. The blooms invite bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to stop and sip the ample nectar. The round, flat petals provide a landing pad for larger butterflies, such as the Canadian tiger swallowtail.
Lance-leaved coreopsis is also a larval host plant for the best dressed caterpillar in town—the camouflaged looper. These caterpillars create stunning outfits from plant matter they collect from their host plants and bring extra delight to the garden.
Growing 30-60 centimetres tall, this hardy, low-maintenance native perennial handles drought and heat with ease. It’s not fussy about soil conditions and does well in sand, loam and clay. Plant it where it will get plenty of sunlight to watch it thrive. Remove faded or dead flowers to encourage additional blooms.
Don’t judge the beauty of this butterfly by its larval stage
Large and boldly coloured, eastern tiger swallowtails get their name from their distinctive yellow and black tiger-like stripes. Their wispy hindwings also look like a swallow’s tail. But they aren’t always nice to look at. As larvae, they wear a variety of less inviting protective disguises. Young caterpillars look unappetizingly like bird poop. As they mature, they develop eyespots. When threatened, they stick out a forked tongue-like organ called an osmeterium to trick predators into thinking they’ve encountered a snake.
Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars feed on birch, aspen, and black cherry. Butterflies feed on nectar from native wildflowers like lance-leaved coreopsis, wild bergamot, milkweed, and others. You might also find them gathered around puddles. Like many other butterflies, eastern tiger swallowtails draw important nutrients and minerals, such as sodium, from pooled water.
Discover pollinator-friendly plants best for your yard using our native plant lists.
On the farm: Long-blooming buckwheat
Plant this versatile cover crop to attract pollinators to your fields and protect your soil. A non-native, flowering summer annual, buckwheat is best planted after early-harvest crops, or before fall seeded crops, to maximize bloom time. Fast-growing, white or pink blooms can appear as early as three weeks after planting and last up to ten weeks. They provide abundant nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects, like hoverflies, which can help control crop pests.
With most of its root mass concentrated near the soil surface, buckwheat loosens topsoil to make nutrients more available for incoming cash crops. Its broad leaves also shield soil to suppress weeds and prevent erosion. This combination of benefits can reduce the need for chemical insecticides and herbicides, which in turn reduces input costs and harm to native pollinators.
Hoverflies lend a helping hand
Don’t swat away this farmer-friendly pollinator. Often mistaken for a wasp, hoverflies are harmless to humans but helpful to orchard growers. Their wasp-like yellow and black stripes deter predators, but they don’t have stingers. You can tell them apart by their large, fly-like eyes and single set of wings.
Fascinating to watch, hoverflies dart around like hummingbirds. They feed on a variety of nectar-rich native wildflowers and play an important role pollinating fruit trees. At the larval stage, some species feed on crop pests such as aphids. Others prefer decaying plant matter and carrion, helping break down organic matter to improve soil health.
There are more than 25 native hoverfly species in Ontario. You can attract hoverflies to your fields by planting long-blooming cover crops like buckwheat.
In the countryside: Blue vervain
Strikingly tall, blue vervain captures pollinator interest with purple flower spikes that shoot up above its lance-shaped leaves. It’s sure to attract your eye as much as the bees and the butterflies. Blooming bottom to top throughout the summer, its numerous tubular flowers provide a continuous source of nectar for pollinators like long- and short-tongued bees. It’s also the larval host plant for the common buckeye, a migrating butterfly that spends its summers in Ontario. Cardinals, field sparrows and song sparrows also flock to feast on its seeds.
Growing up to 150 centimetres tall, blue vervain prefers moist to wet soil conditions in full or partial sun. It’s easy to establish by seed and spreads naturally, making it an ideal choice for pollinator patches and meadow plantings. Growing well in disturbed areas, it’s also a good native plant alternative to invasive species like purple loosestrife.
Common buckeye: A regular summer visitor
If you feel like you’re being watched, you might be in the presence of a common buckeye. Named for the large, bold eyespots on its wings, this migrating butterfly visits Ontario annually and delights in sunny, open areas like fields and meadows. While its distinguishing eyespots help deter predators, its plain underbelly also allows it to blend into its surroundings.
Common buckeye caterpillars look almost as stunning as the butterflies. Bluish black with light orange stripes and spots, they feed on a variety of colourful wildflowers, like blue vervain. Adult butterflies prefer the nectar from native wildflowers, including those in the aster, sunflower, daisy, mint, and milkweed families.
Keep these summer visitors returning year after year. Restore old fields and open spaces to native wildflower meadows. We can help. Funding is available for eligible properties through our Landowner Action Fund. Contact a stewardship coordinator to learn more at [email protected].
By CVC’s Calantha Elsby, Specialist, Environmental Outreach