Pollinator Week: Q & A with Horticulturalist Todd Boland

Photograph of Horticulturalist Todd Boland.
Photo courtesy of Todd Boland.

Pollinator week is here! From June 22-28, we’re learning all about the pollinator animals and insects that are vital to our ecosystems. We invited Todd Boland, the Head Horticulturalist at the Memorial University (MUN) Botanical Garden, to share some information about pollinators and pollinator plants. Todd earned his MSc in Plant Ecology and researched orchid pollination.

What are pollinators and why are they important?

Pollinators are any organisms which carry pollen from flower to flower, a process which is required for sexual reproduction in plants. Insects are the main pollinator, especially bees, beetles and butterflies, but in other parts of the world, bats and birds may also be important pollinators.

What kinds of pollinators do we have in Newfoundland and Labrador?

In our province, it is various bees and butterflies, and to a lesser degree, moths, that are the main plant pollinators.  We have over 50 species of bees in NL, some being quite small and appearing more like small flies than bees.

Color photograph of the halictad bee on a purple flower.
Halictid Bee. Photo courtesy of Todd Boland.

Are pollinators in danger? What threats do pollinators face?

In our province, pollinators are quite safe.  Elsewhere, the use of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural areas, is known to have a deleterious effect on bees.  For honeybees, it is varroa mites and to a lesser degree, several diseases, which are causing die-offs of the hives.  Thankfully, varroa mites are absent from Newfoundland so even our honeybees are safe.

What happens if we don’t have enough pollinators?

The vast majority of our fruits and vegetables require pollinators to set fruit and or seeds.  Without pollinators, it would cause catastrophic consequences to life on earth.

What are pollinator plants? What types of pollinator plants grow well in our province?

Pollinator plants are those that provide pollen and/or nectar to the visiting pollinators so essentially provide pollinators with food.  As a service for being feed, the pollinators bring about pollination of the plants as a side effect.  Many pollinator plants exist in NL, other native and ornamental.

Color photograph of Eastern Canada Swallowtail, a type of butterfly.
The Eastern Canada Swallowtail. Photo courtesy of Todd Boland.

Essentially all daisies are excellent pollinator plants.  However, they should be single-flowered not double-flowered types as many double-flowered plants, while attractive as garden ornamentals, provide little in terms of pollen or nectar.  Bees love blue and purple flowers so plants like lupine, monkshood and lungwort are excellent.  Butterflies love yellow and orange flowers, thus reduce competition with bees.

For pots, it is best to stick to annual plants like marigolds, calendula, gloriosa daisy, African daisy and lobelia.  Perennial pollinator plants do better in the open ground.  Examples include coneflower, purple coneflower, leopards-bane, lungwort, lupine, beebalm and heath/heather. The lowly dandelion is an important “wildflower” pollinator plant.  Willow is also an important source of spring food for pollinators.

Most pollinator plants need full sun or at least part sun.  Most bees and butterflies are more active in sunny open areas than in cool shady spots. Now is the time to plant annual pollinator plants or potted perennial plants.

Color photograph of a butterfly with orange and black markings on a pink flower.
Painted Lady Butterfly. Photo courtesy of Todd Boland.

You can see (and smell!) all of these pollinator plants at the MUN Botanical Garden!

Memorial University’s Botanical Garden is open for the season! The garden is located at 306 Mt. Scio Road, St. Johns, NL. The garden includes five nature trails, a cultivated garden area, and a greenhouse incorporated into the 100-acre nature reserve. Plus, an on-site café and gift shop are housed in the visitor centre. Learn more and purchase day and season passes online here.

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