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Native Plants for Bees!

Over the last week or so I have been seeing lots of bees. Tiny, solitary native bees, big bumble bees and honey bees. Did you know Alberta is home to at least 400 species of native bees?! That's a lot of bees! These days we are seeing a lot of information floating around about the importance of bees but much of it focuses on honey bees, an introduced species. Honey bees make the honey we can buy in stores, honey bees are used for agriculture to pollinate the 1/3 bites of food we will eat....the list goes on. Certainly honey bees are important in many ways but in terms of maintaining ecosystem health where they are an introduced species? Not so much. Research is underway to see if honey bees compete with our native bees for forage and further research is looking how effective native bees actually are for pollinating food crops. While the jury is still out on whether honey bees are outcompeting our native bees in the city, there is no doubt that they face other threats. Habitat loss is one of the biggest drivers for the decline in a lot of wildlife, including bees. Because of this, we are seeing bee friendly flower mixes being sold or given away more and more. While that is all well and good and bees will certainly appreciate the flowers, there is problem. If you look closely at many wildflower seed packets, they are composed of non-native species with many of them actually being invasive! Just the other day my daughter came home from school with a packet of bee wildflower seeds from her well meaning teacher that contained several invasive species and only one native one.

What about if you go to the garden centre and buy non-invasive plants? That will help provide nectar for bees but there is another caution there. In order to help prevent insect pests infesting their plants, many growers use systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids and fipronil. Rather than being sprayed or coated on plants like traditional insecticides, these synthetic insecticides are put into the seed of the plants and as they grow, the insecticide becomes part of the plant. They can also be applied around the roots of plants and the plant will take them up into the root system that way. Sounds ingenious right? But wait, if the insecticide is part of the plant, doesn't that mean it would be part of the flowers too? Yup, that's right and that's bad news for bees. While taking nectar from one neonicotinoid flower isn't going to kill them, taking it from many is. There has been a lot of talk about synthetic insecticides in the last few years and many greenhouses are phasing them out but unless it specifically notes it is not grown with them, it might be best not to bring it into your wildlife friendly garden.

So what is a well meaning person who just wants to help bees to do? Buy native plants of course! There are so many native plants that are fantastic for bees and the people who are growing them aren't using neonicotinoids or fipronil. You can combat habitat loss for bees, butterflies, birds and a host of other wildlife by planting native plants. Below is a list of some of our native plants that you can use to help support bees. It may look long and daunting and truthfully, it kind of is. That's how many plants there are that are great for bees!

Bumble bees on Sunflower (Helianthus sp.)

Trees and Shrubs


· River Alder - Alnus incana (tenuifolia)

· River Birch - Betula occidentalis

· Paper Birch - Betula papyrifera

· Hawthorn - Crataegus chrysocarpa

· Narrow Leaf Polar - Populus angustifolia

· Balsam Poplar - Populus balsamifera

· 'Paskapoo' Poplar – A cultivar of one of our native poplars, designed to fit into the urban landscape

· Trembling Aspen - Populus tremuloides

· Pincherry - Prunus pensylvanica

· Green Alder - Alnus viridis crispa

· Saskatoon (Western Serviceberry) - Amelanchier alnifolia

· Dwarf Birch - Betula glandulosa

· Red Twig Dogwood - Cornus sericea

· Silverberry (Wolf Willow) - Eleagnus commutata

· Bracted Honeysuckle - Lonicera involucrata

· Oregon Grape - Mahonia repens

· Potentilla bush - Potentilla fruticosa

· Chokecherry - Prunus virginiana

· Golden Currant - Ribes aureum

· Gooseberry - Ribes oxycanthoides

· Northern Red Currant - Ribes triste

· Prickly Rose - Rosa aicularis

· Prairie Rose - Rosa arkansana

· Wild Rose - Rosa woodsii

· Dwarf Raspberry - Rubus arcticus

· Thimbleberry - Rubus parviflorus

· Trailing Raspberry - Rubus pubescens

· Wild Raspberry - Rubus idaeus

· Barrett Willow - Salix barrattiana

· Bebb Willow - Salix bebbiana

· Hoary Willow - Salix candida

· Powerface Willow - Salix commutata 'Powderface'

· Pussy Willow - Salix discolor

· Sandbar Willow - Salix exigua

· Tawny Willow - Salix lucida

· Yellow Pussy Willow - Salix lutea

· Black Bud Willow - Salix petiolaris

· Purple Elder - Sambucus melanocarpa

· Red Elder - Sambucus racemosa

· Silver Buffaloberry - Shepherdia argentea

· Russet Buffaloberry - Shepherdia canadensis

· Birch Leaved Spiraea (Meadowsweet) - Spiraea betuifolia

· Snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus

· Western Snowberry - Symphoricarpos occidentalis

· Bog Cranberry - Vaccinium vitis-idaea

· Low Bush Cranberry - Viburnum edule


Spring/Early Summer Blooming (April – June)

· Penstemon / Beardtongue – Penstemon sp.

· Kinnikinnick (Bearberry) – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

· Balsamroot – Balsamorhiza sagittata

· Bunchberry – Cornus canadensis

· Nuttall’s Larkspur – Delphinium nuttallianum

· Wild Strawberries – Fragaria virginiana

- Violets – Viola sp.

- Showy Jacob’s Ladder – Polemonium pulcherrimum

- Prairie Crocus – Pulsatilla nuttalliana

- Golden Beans – Thermopsis rhombifolia

- Parry’s Townsendia – Townsendia parryi

- Low Townsendia – Townsendia exscapa

- Heart-Leaved Alexanders – Zizia aptera

· Silvery Lupine – Lupinus argenteus

· Silky Lupine – Lupinus sericeus

· Twining Honeysuckle – Lonicera dioica

- Hedysarum – Hedysarum sp.

· Prairie Turnip – Pediomelum esculentum

- Sweet Coltsfoot – Pedasites frigida

- Tall Bluebells or Lungwort – Mertensia paniculate

- Silky Scorpionweed – Phacelia sericea

Summer Blooming (June – August)

· Silvery Lupine – Lupinus argenteus

· Silky Lupine – Lupinus sericeus

· Yarrow – Achillea borealis

· Giant Hyssop – Agastache foeniculum

· Nodding Onion – Allium cernuum

- Prairie Onion – Allium textile

· Wild Chives – Allium schoenoprasum

· Blue Columbine – Aquilegia brevistyla

· Red Columbine – Aquilegia Formosa

· Yellow Columbine – Aquilegia flavescens

· Heart-Leaved Arnica – Arnica cordifolia

· Low Milkweed – Asclepias ovalfolia

· Showy Milkweed – Asclepias specious

· Asters – Aster, Eurybia and Symphyotrichum sp.

· Harebell – Campanula alaskana

· Paintbrush – Castilleja sp.

· Fireweed – Chamaenerion angustifolium

· River Beauty Fireweed – Chamaenerion latifolium

· Western White Clematis – Clematis ligusticifolia

- Blue or Purple Clematis – Clematis occidentalis

· Tall Larkspur – Delphinium glaucum

· Fleabanes – Erigeron sp.

· Brown Eyed Susans – Gaillardia aristata

· White Geranium – Geranium richardsonii

· Sticky Purple Geranium – Geranium viscosissimum

· Sunflowers – Helianthus sp.

· Alumroots – Heuchera sp.

· Mountain or River Hollyhock – Iliamna rivularis

· Blue Flax – Linum lewisii

· Yellow Flax – Linum rigidum

· Wild Mint – Mentha arvensis

· Wild Bergamot – Monarda fistulosa

· Cinquefoils – Potentilla sp.

· Prairie Coneflower – Ratibida columnifera

· Black Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia hirta

· Goldenrods – Solidago sp.

· Sitka Valerian – Valeriana sitchensis

- Violets – Viola sp.

- Anemones – Anemone sp.

- Canada Anemone – Anemonastrum canadensis

- Pussytoes – Antennaria sp.

- Milkvetch – Astragalus sp.

- Field Chickweed – Cerastium arvense

- Ball Cactus – Escobaria vivipara

- Northern Bedstraw – Galium boreale

- Hairy False Golden Aster – Heterotheca villosa

- Twinflower – Linnaea borealis

- Stemless White Evening Primrose – Oenothera caespitosa

- Prickly Pear Cactus – Opuntia polycantha

- Locoweed – Oxytropis sp.

- Tall Jacob’s Ladder – Polemonium acutiflorum

- Stonecrop – Sedum sp.

- Buckwheat – Eriogonum sp.

- Gumweed – Gridelia squarrosa

- Wild Licorice - Glycyrrhiza lepidota

- Wild Vetch - Vicia americana

Late Summer/Fall Blooming (Mid-August – October)

- Sneezeweed – Helenium autumnale

· Black Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia hirta

· Goldenrods – Solidago sp.

· Joe Pye Weed – Eutrochium maculatum

· Sunflowers – Helianthus sp.

- Purple Prairie Clover – Dalea purpurea

· Meadow Blazing Star – Liatris ligulistylis

· Dotted Blazing Star – Liatris punctata


- Purple Monkeyflower – Erythranthe lewisii

- Yellow Monkeyflower – Erythranthe guttata

- Rocky Mountain Bee Plant – Peritoma serralata

Honey Bee and Solitary Bees on Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Bumble Bee on River Hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis)

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