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Meet the Bee Team: 9 pollinator-friendly plants in Downtown Calgary

by Calgary Downtown Association


Did you know that more than 85% of the world's flowering plants cannot reproduce without the help of pollinators? In honour of World Bee Day (May 20) and the hard workers that are essential for our ecosystem's health and food security, we would like to highlight the small steps we're taking this season to nourish common pollen-neighbours in downtown Calgary. 

Super pollinators in Alberta include bats, birds, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, and especially bees - in fact, our province is home to over 300 native species of bees.

Beginning with planting for pollinators this spring, many of the selected plants in the Downtown Calgary summer horticulture program are bee-friendly; we have also installed bee hotels for solitary bees as well as pollinator baths. The variety of blooms we have introduced will attract and provide a sweet treat, while the baths serve as a water feeder on those hot summer days and hotels as safe spaces for bees to create a habitat for their young.

Our gardens aren't just for the animals however, we invite you to check out the blossoms downtown and have prepared some fun flower facts because we think you're the bee's knees!

Golden Currant or Buffalo Currant

Ribes aureum

The Golden Currant is a golden ticket for bees and pollinators. A medium-sized deciduous shrub with light green leaves and spicy-scented yellow flowers that turn more orange with age, this plant has been recognized by pollination ecologists to attract large numbers of native bees. Golden Currants bloom in March or early April and are often considered one of the first signs of spring.

Fun fact: The bluish-black fruits can be eaten fresh or dried and mixed with buffalo or venison meat to make pemmican.

Bee Balm

Monarda 'Jacob Cline,' and Monarda 'Marshall's Delight'

If it isn't already obvious by the name, Bee Balm is the perfect plant for pollinators. A perennial favourite found in flower beds and pollinator gardens across North America, its colourful blossoms and fragrant foliage are unmistakable. 

Here in Downtown we have two varieties of Bee Balm; 'Jacob Cline,' with red blossoms, and 'Marshall's Delight,' with pink blossoms.

Fun Fact: Bee Balm not only feeds the birds and the bees, it’s also edible and is used medicinally. Check out 12 Ways to Use Bee Balm

Cinnamon Fern

Osmundastrum cinnamomeum

In terms of ferns, nothing has really changed for over 360 million years. Most ferns that we know today are considered living fossils that have been perfecting the art of survival for eons. The Cinnamon Fern is an especially odd variety and gets its name from the cinnamon-coloured spikes rising up from the centre of the plant. While they require very little effort from pollinators to grow and reproduce, the leaves of the Cinnamon Fern provide excellent shelter for bees and the ‘wool’ textured spores on its fronds are sometimes used by hummingbirds to make their nests.

Fun Fact: In Japan, hairs from the young plant are mixed with wool to make waterproof clothing.

Heartleaf Bergenia

Bergenia cordifolia

Like most Calgarians, Heartleaf Bergenias are used to colder climates. Native to Siberia and Mongolia, Bergenias thrive the best at high altitudes with rocky soil. The plant features large, leathery leaves and is especially known for its densely-packed pink flowers. Bergenia’s bloom in the spring making them an excellent early pollen source for bees and other pollinators.

Fun fact: Bergenia’s symbolize health and renewal.

Bishop's Hat, Fairy Wings or Barrenwort

Epimedium x rubrum

While Bishop’s Hat is not an especially hardy plant, it is more known for being a promiscuous bunch. Like many flowers, Bishop’s Hat relies on bees to procreate. This cross pollination creates both garden hybrids as well as natural hybrids in the wild. A favourite in gardens for their substantial ground-cover, the Epimedium x rubrum< variety is especially sought-after because of its pink, star-shaped flowers and the red tinge found around its leaves.

Fun fact: most plants in the Epimedium family are used as aphrodisiacs.

Spotted Deadnettle

Lamium maculatum 'Chequers'

Spotted Deadnettle is part of the mint family and gets its name from the way its leaves resemble those of stinging nettles. It blooms later in the spring, early summer and even in the fall, attracting bees to it’s vibrant, pollen-filled blooms. Like Bishop’s Hat, Spotted Deadnettle is typically used as groundcover in more shady areas. It can cover large areas quickly and does well next to Cinnamon ferns. 

The ‘Chequers’ variety found in Downtown is best recognized by its hooded, dark pink flowers and a prominent silver stripe down its leaves.<

Fun fact: Spotted Deadnettles are also edible. Considered a culinary herb, the leaves and flowers can be used to make herbal tea or added to salads, stews and soups.

Galahad Mockorange

Philadelphus 'Galahad'

If you don’t think you’ve ever seen a Galahad Mockorange before, there is a good chance you have smelled them in the air. Prized for its lovely fragrant flower, this deciduous shrub is usually planted because of its signature scent (similar to an orange tree in full bloom). This scent and colorful flowers make its pollen irresistible to honeybees.

Fun fact: the Mockorange is the state flower of Idaho.

Standing Ovation Saskatoon Berry

Amelanchier Alnifolia 'Obelisk'

Unlike other Saskatoon Berry plants that grow wider and shorter, the Standing Ovation variety grows tall and narrow. This unique characteristic makes it perfect for hedging or screening in landscaping. Smothered in white, fragrant flowers during the early months of spring, bees work hard to pollinate and we are rewarded in the early summer with ripe, blueberry-like (and delicious) berries.

Fun fact: The Saskatoon Berry is known as one of the ‘sign posts’ of spring. In history, its first bloom was used as a signal that the ground was thawed enough to hold funeral services (hence its other name, the ‘serviceberry’)

Globe Flower

Trollius x cultorum 'Orange Princess'

Sometimes called buttercups, the Globe Flower is known for its bowl-shaped, brightly coloured flowers. These flowers are nectar and pollen-rich and are known for attracting bees and other pollinators. The vibrant orange of the Globe Flower against the deep green hue of its foliage make it an eye-catching and elegant addition to any garden area.

Fun fact: The Globe Flower is the recipient of the prestigious Award of Golden Merit from the Royal Horticulture Society.

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