The spring blooms are coming!
By Pamela Sleightholm
Gardeners look forward to spring – when the snow has melted away and those small signs of life start to rise out of the soil. Those early blooming plants are important to us, but they’re important to pollinators as well.
Here are some of the early-blooming native plants that we can look forward to in Southern Ontario, and some of the pollinators that depend on them. Consider adding these beauties to your garden this spring:
Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum)
A favourite of bumblebees, this distinctive-looking plant with lovely pink plumed flowers is an important early nectar source. It has long-lasting foliage and grows fairly low to the ground, making it a great addition to a habitat garden.
Geum triflorum blooms from early spring to summer.
Photos by Peeter Poldre and Pamela Sleightholm.
Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)
Another low-growing early bloomer, Golden Alexander has long-lasting yellow flowers. It is a larval host plant for black swallowtail butterflies, meaning that it is one of only a few plants that its caterpillars can eat. It also provides food for Andrena ziziae, a specialist native miner bee.
Zizia aurea is a crucial plant for black swallowtail butterflies. Photo by Peeter Poldre.
Canada columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis)
The red columbine can grow up to about three feet in full sun or part shade. Its tubular red flowers attract pollinating insects and hummingbirds. It blooms in mid-spring with hardy flowers that last for several months.
Ontario's native columbine has red and yellow flowers which are magnets to bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds. Photo by Peeter Poldre.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
The serviceberry species are native shrubs that bloom in spring. Their creamy flowers attract bees, butterflies, wasps and pollinating beetles and they have delicious berries that you'll have to compete with the birds for. Some also have hollow stems, which overwintering bees need for laying their eggs. Serviceberries stay fairly small and can be a great addition to a suburban yard that doesn’t have the space for a larger tree.
Serviceberries are larval host plants for striped hairstreak, white admiral and red-spotted butterflies, as well as dozens of moths.
Early blooms, sweet berries and small size make serviceberry shrubs ideal for small yards. Photo by Pamela Sleightholm.
Eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis)
Sometimes mistaken for a cherry tree because of its stunning pink blooms in spring, the eastern redbud is a near-native small Carolinian tree that attracts many native bees and butterflies and is the larval host plant for dozens of wasps. It has heart-shaped leaves and also acts as a nitrogen fixer.
Eastern redbud has heart-shaped leaves, delicate pink blooms and attracts many bees and other pollinating insects. Photo by Pamela Sleightholm.
Other plants that have a huge impact on spring pollinators are native oaks, willows and maples. They often bloom earlier than wildflowers and shrubs, and some pollinators drink their sap or eat their leaves.
When planning a habitat garden, it's important to choose plants that bloom in spring, summer and fall so that nectar and pollen are available throughout the seasons. It also provides colour, texture and interest for humans.