Native Plants in your Yard Support Pollinators and the Basics of Pollination
by Laureen Rama with Caron Wenzel, for Friends of Fish Creek Newsletter, 2008

Fish Creek Park is an island of native ecosystem in a sea of urban and agricultural development. Places where native plants, animals, insects, etc. can flourish are important to preserving the diversity and genetic richness of the native ecosystem. Diversity means having a lot of different species of beings. When there are many species to play the various roles needed in an ecosystem, more support is available to all the species. If the climate or other factors change, some species die out. Without a wide variety of species, an ecosystem can crash as vital roles are left unfilled.

You can support the native ecosystem in Fish Creek Park and Calgary area by planting native plants (trees, shrubs, perennial flowers) in your yard. Potentilla, River Birch, and Brown-eyed Susans are examples of native plants. Native pollinators (bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds) evolved with native plants and are especially supported by native plants. Pollinators see differently than humans. To a native pollinator, a native plant looks like a giant neon-flashing sign that says “hereʼs lunch!” Pollinators can easily find native plants and make good use of the nectar they provide. When native pollinators flock to your yard, theyʼll pollinate many of the plants, not just the native ones. Cultivars of native plants are usually as hardy as the original native stock; they do not have quite the same attracting factor to pollinators as true natives. Native plants require little watering and care as they are adapted to this climate.

Three local nurseries specialize in native plants for Southern Alberta: Bow Point Nursery in Springbank for trees, shrubs, and wood chip mulch (686-4434) ; ALCLA Native Plant Restoration in Brentwood (282-6516) and Wild About Flowers in Turner Valley (933-3903) for wildflowers.

The Basics of Pollination

For those of you who have ever wondered how plants make more plants but donʼt want to go back to school this is for you.

  • Pollination happens when pollen (plant sperm or male genes) enters a plant’s pistil or ovary (female part of plant)
  • Some plants can fertilize themselves. These are called open pollinated plants.
  • Some plants require a separate male and female plant. These are known as dioecious plants. A Poplar tree is an example of a dioecious species. Cotton fluff is the female seed. It is the pollen from male trees that triggers allergies.
  • Cone-bearing plants (such as Pine) produce male pollen spores that travel on the wind to a female pine cone of the species.
  • Many plants need cross pollination, which is pollen from one plantʼs stamen that goes to a separate plantʼs stigma. This is important for genetic diversity in a species.
  • Insects (including bees and butterflies), hummingbirds, and even bats. provide pollination services.
  • Plant flowers have evolved to have specific shapes and colours that attract specific pollinators.
  • Pollen sticks to the pollinator and when it goes to another plant, the pollen rubs off the first visited pollinator to a neighboring plant of the same species.
  • Humans have affected pollination patterns greatly. Clearing farmland and later abandoning the same land has especially disrupted traditional pollinator habitat.
  • Birds, bats and bee populations have declined because of pesticide use and habitat fragmentation.
  • Seventy five percent of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators.
  • Over 90 food crops (including apples, blueberries, etc.) eaten in North America depend on pollinators.