Author: Marion Robertson

During the many cold and, sometimes, snowy spring days we started compiling a wildflower database. These are wildflowers, native to Ontario, that we grow and will be growing. This is not the usual listing. We have targeted these plants because of their great capacity for nectar production or they serve an important niche. To see our database just follow the link to our wildflower knowledge base.

Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower meadow

Milkweeds are definitely under rated plants and, unfortunately, only associated with Monarch butterflies. This is a good starting point but not the full story of milkweeds. Even the name is interesting. The Genus name honors the Greek god, Asklepios, the god of medicine. There are 100 species throughout the world and Canada has 13 native to her soils of which Ontario boasts 11.

There have been planting programs to bring back milkweeds to the landscape. Why? The obvious answer is that this plant group is the food source for the magnificent Monarch and its caterpillars. The loss of milkweeds in Monarchs spring and summer breeding areas is believed to be a significant factor for their decline in populations. Agricultural intensification, development of rural lands and the use of mowing and herbicides to control roadside vegetation have all lead to the drastic decline of milkweeds.

But beyond the Monarch, many insects and hummingbirds drink nectar from its flowers. In fact, because milkweeds produce vast amounts of nectar over a sustained period, it is rated by pollination experts as a plant of special value to native bees. Orioles will use the plant fibers from its stems to construct nests. Other nesting birds use the silks from seed pods to line their nests. The Queen butterfly, dogbane tiger moth and milkweed tussock moth also use milkweed as their larval plant.

In Nature, every act uses biological energy. The production of flowers, leaves and nectar are all carefully planned since energy must be diverted into each process. The production of high quality nectar by milkweeds is no accident and is totally dependent on the process of pollination. The pollination path of milkweeds is quite complicated and intricate.

All milkweeds are incompatible. They can’t pollinate themselves but must depend on insects to transfer pollen between unrelated plants. Compared to other insect visited flowers, milkweeds are very unique. Their pollen is contained in small, waxy sacs (pollinia) that are located in vertical grooves (stigmatic slits) within the flower. Each pollinia contains several hundred pollen grains which are inaccessible to pollinators visiting, milkweed must offer large amounts of nectar as a reward. Not only does milkweed offer large amounts of nectar, the nectar is of very high quality.

When insects come for their nectar reward, their legs or mouth parts may slip into the stigmatic slits and come into contact with the pollinia sacs containing the pollen grains. The sacs are barbed in nature and is removed from the flower as the insect tugs its body part out of the stigmatic slit. The unknowing insect then transfers pollen to the next milkweed. Although this process is complicated it does not require ‘specialist’ insects. Insects need only be large enough to remove and carry the pollinia to the next flower.

Interestingly, not all larger insects visiting milkweeds are equal in their pollinator abilities. A huge array of insects visit milkweeds from bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles. It is the large bees and wasps and butterflies that are the most efficient pollinators of milkweed. And even though Monarch butterflies visit milkweed flowers often, they are not efficient at transferring pollinia. Believe it or not, it is the swallowtail butterfly family that are important pollinators of this plant. From my research, bumble bees, honeybees, eastern carpenter bees are the most significant insect pollinators.

If you would like to read further on the native milkweeds of Ontario please visit the milkweed article.

Check Tree Availability

With milder temperatures, the trees are starting to show signs of breaking dormancy. Now the daunting task of unloading the greenhouse and organizing the tree yard.

Dormant trees

We will be conducting our winter damage assessments over the next weeks and then start contacting our customers on our Wish list.

We have just posted the next article about plastics on our website. Please follow this link. This delves into how to slowly become less dependent on plastic and how to eliminate it from your everyday lifestyle.

Assortment of plastic bottles

So far it has been quite painless for us though we have a long way to go in both our personal lifestyles and that of our business to be near zero plastic free. It is achievable one small plastic free footstep at a time.

The Ancient Black Tupelos

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Such was the case of the ancient Black Tupelos aged 400 – 500 years old. We purposely waited till the Fall so that we could see their brightly colored leaves on the forest floor. A great harvest day. Very excited about this years germination. To see the full story, follow the link.

Black Tupelo leaves

I wanted to share everything we researched on plastic pollution. In order for us to launch our near zero plastic initiative for Bee Sweet Nature we had to do our homework. Part 1 describes the magnitude of the issue and upcoming Part 2 will lead to ways to decrease our plastic dependency. Follow the link to the article.

People have been inquiring to the meaning of our wish list. Isn’t it just an order form? My answer is yes and no.

Prior to opening our nursery here, at Bee Sweet Nature Co, I would place my plant orders, well in advance, with growers and get disappointed every year because some items were ,’sold out’. The reality was my order was edged out by a bigger order. Not fair! I understand that from a business point of view it makes money sense to fill your bigger orders first and then work down the list. But it is not fair to all the customers rejected because their order wasn’t big enough.

I hated that yearly disappointment – so I created our Wish list. It is strictly a first come first serve listing. We date all customer plant wish list requests and they are notified after our winter survival assessments. We contact everyone on the list from earliest to latest wish list dates. When everyone has been served on the list then we open up our remaining stock to the general public or our off site spring sales. Doesn’t that sound more fair?

Avoid disappointment. Get on the Wish list.

Our greatest pride, for our nursery, is being totally organic. No use of pesticides. Sometimes this is not the easiest course of action but it certainly feels like the most correct one.

I just need to look at all our honeybees and native bees for encouragement. It is not about what our competing nurseries and garden centers are doing. It is about creating a product that you can truly be proud of and knowing your footsteps are a little lighter on Mother Earth.

We are all in this together. Please be organic and no spraying.