By Mary Elizabeth O’Toole
In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about increased threats to butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Their decline is of particular concern because of the vital role that pollinators play in plant reproduction and, consequently, on our wildlife, plant diversity and food sustainability.
Threats to pollinators come from many factors including climate change, invasive species, and pesticides that are compromising habitat and food sources. Fortunately, there are things that we can do as individuals and communities.
One place to begin is with the David Suzuki Foundation Butterflyway Project (https://davidsuzuki.org/take-action/act-locally/butterflyway/), a volunteer-led initiative devoted to creating pollinator-friendly patches in gardens, balconies, schools, and public spaces. Started in 2017 with volunteers in five communities, the program now has more than 1000 ‘Butterflyway Rangers’ in 400 communities across the country, including several on the Eastern Shore.
Rangers are committed to increasing pollinator habitats in their communities by encouraging, friends, neighbours, and local businesses to add more native plants to their gardens and landscaping. They also educate about pollinators and native plants, and advocate for their municipalities to create habitats and adopt pollinator-friendly practices.
Many bees and butterflies rely on specific plant hosts to survive, typically plants native to their habitat area. The link between monarch butterflies and milkweed is one of best-known examples of specific plant-to-pollinator relationships. Milkweed is the only source of food for monarch caterpillars. Loss of milkweed on their migratory routes has put these popular butterflies on the endangered list. I talked with several Butterflyway Rangers (I’m one myself!) on the Eastern Shore who’ve been changing their gardens by growing milkweed and other native plants to help all the pollinators.
Blair Blakeney and Diane Smaggus in Porters Lake have been working to rebuild monarch habitats. “This year, we’ve given away 2000 plants and hundreds of seeds,” Smaggus explains. “Milkweed has a reputation of being really invasive, but our native swamp milkweed doesn’t spread easily. And despite its name, it does well in dry or wetter conditions. We’ve been building a community green space with our neighbours on Capri Island Close. This is the first year we’re devoting an entire section to native plants.”
Diane Lucas in Mineville recommends swapping seeds and plants to get more native species that thrive locally. “A team of members and friends of the Eastern Shore Garden Club (easternshoregardenclub.org) are building a pollinator patch on the Gaetz Brook Greenway near East Chezzetcook,” Lucas said. “We have already designated a second space for a later project.” She also suggests consulting reliable library and online sources and learning from other gardeners.
Glynis Bailey has been slowing replacing invasive ‘aliens’ with native species at her home on Myers Point. “It takes time and you need reliable information to identify what is native,” she says. “I am still learning. I also keep plants that have proven useful and compatible with native species. A weed can be any plant that is growing where you do not want it. But it doesn’t necessarily have to go to the compost pile. I like to move some ‘weeds’ as clusters into other parts of the garden. You have to find a balance.”
Tips for pollinator planting:
Use a variety of species that bloom from spring to fall
Avoid pesticides and herbicides.
June is pollinator month, a perfect time to join the movement to build more pollinator-friendly pathways.
Contact local Butterflyway Rangers for resources or tips on native plants and supporting pollinators – or to learn more about creating a butterflyway. Watch for Butterflyway Project signs in your neighbourhood.
Glynis (Myers Point) – [email protected]
Blair and Diane (Porter’s Lake)- [email protected] or on Facebook @blair.blakeney.75
Diane (Mineville)- [email protected] or [email protected].
Mary Elizabeth O’Toole (W. Chezzetcook) - [email protected] or FB @Seed2Soup