The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 3, Introduction: Pollinators and Host Plants

Dear Wood Folk,

Did you know that only recently the native common milkweed plant was removed from our governments official noxious weeds list? This is the host plant of the monarch butterfly caterpillar (an endangered species). /Facepalm.

There’s far too much anti-bug and even anti-“weed” sentiment out there. But the sentiment is changing – hopefully.

Tri-coloured bumble bee – one of a couple hundred bee species in Ontario, Canada

There are over 700 butterfly species in North America, with almost 300 occurring in Canada.┬áBut being pollinator friendly isn’t only about fluttering butterflies. Countless insects are pollinators. Native bees, beetles, flies, moths, and wasps! Other insects like gnats get in on it as well. Bird-wise here, the ruby-throated hummingbirds are pollinators. In tropical areas, some bats are too. Counting all our pollinator allies, the list of at risk species is daunting. Many of them are in the same crisis as monarchs. We’ve already lost some species in Ontario, including some bees. It’s not just about destroying the wild either – wild bees alone provide us with 1/3rd of our food supply worldwide.

Habitat loss is one of these pollinators main downfalls. Our native wildlife need their native plant kin and vice versa. Biodiversity and wild (or “rewilded”) spaces are the buzzwords.

We are starting to know better thanks to the voices of indigenous peoples, conservationist-sorts, and scientists honest enough for evidence based science. Some of these issues are starting to creep into everyday conversation. There’s a whole range of reactions to this conversation, from planting some milkweed to attempts to make a landscape 100% native and everything in between. I’m 100% pro do your best with the resources you have and keep learning. Sometimes we even have to do a 180 on things were thought were helpful, but turned out to be harmful (keeping nonnative honey bees for instance is hurting our hundreds of native species. See sources 1, 2, 3, etc.) Raising butterflies is in question too, currently a raging debate, which we’ll get into next month. Joining and following a group like Ontario Native Plant Gardening can keep you in the know.

The hopeful news is that recreating habitat is an easy way ONE person can make a exponential difference. Even with a tiny yard, you can bring it from a shaved grass monoculture nobody needs on their property to an actual living habitat with native blooms, birds and bees. And of course when one person does it, a neighborhood may follow. Supporting land trusts like Haliburton Highlands Land Trust is another way to protect habitat. As well as speaking up on conservation issues like shoreline bylaws seeking to protect aquatic plants and wildlife.

From milkweed and monarchs (coming next month) to black swallowtails and water hemlock. From fat common bumble bees to tiny sweat bees. From creeping beetles to slimy slugs. With the likes of hummingbirds and calligrapher flies and so many others… I look forward to digging into the plants that make these Ontario pollinators buzz and slither for Volume 3 of the Wood Folk Diaries. I hope it helps encourage people to landscape with native plants. And to look closer, to notice how many different species are out there and how intricately linked they all are, and want to protect them. iNat has over 200 bee species listed for Ontario. When you add in other insects 8,325+ is the count, not including pollinating slugs, spiders, etc. We’re talking 5 digits of buggy diversity. The number of species of native plants these insects frequent is in the thousands too. Some pollinators are specialists to one or a few specific plants. So if that plant goes.. There are dire circumstances out there, unless people care and do something now.

For todays eye candy here’s our first post on our Instagram of local pollinators doing their thing:

I can’t wait to start with monarchs next month! Happy Fall!

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