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Pollinator and wildlife gardening misconceptions

 

Native plants are better at attracting pollinators than exotic plants

I am going to get stung if I make a garden for pollinators

Putting up bee houses will increase my chances of getting stung

Gardens look better with exotic plants

Native plants such as goldenrod cause allergies

Planting native plants will produce more oxygen

Native plants suffer visible damage from pests while exotic plants do not.

If the plant is good for pollinators, it must be good for the environment.

 

Bees see only ultraviolet.

Hummingbirds only see red

Nectar is for butterflies and pollen is for bees

Honey bees are better than native bees at pollinating flowers

The decline of honey bees means my vegetables will not get pollinated

The decline of honey bees is terrrible for the environment.

Bees are good and wasps are bad

 

 

Native plants are better at attracting pollinators than exotic plants

A similar statement (and even worse) is that native plants attract native bees and exotic plants attract exotic bees. There is some truth in the statement, but it is also really misleading. Native bees do not know their geography. They do not care whether the plant is local or from far away just as long as it gives them what they want. Oregano is a good example. It provides concentrated nectar that bees like and it is highly attractive to all bees even though it is from Europe. Butterfly bush is highly attractive to butterflies and it comes from China. Also, let's not forget the wild populations of exotic bees that have become established in Canada and are doing very well on our native plants (see Giant Resin Bee). Why is this true? Well most bees are generalists when it comes to collecting nectar. Now some bees do have specific pollen sources and some native plants require a specific native pollinator, but, it is simply not possible to judge a plant's ability to attract pollinators based on where it comes from. Native plants support more food chains through herbivory and are an environmentally more responsible choice because they will not have deleterious effects on local ecosystems.

 

I am going to get stung if I make a garden for pollinators

During the summer, I work around bees and wasps every day. The last time I was stung was over 20 years ago in Malawi when an African honey bee decided its life-long mission was to stick its behind in me, rip out its insides and leave a venom pump in my hand. It followed me up the street until the job was done. All is forgiven. Being stung, as described above, is the nightmare scenario for biophobics, which these days, describes many members of our urban societies. The fact remains that my exposure to stinging critters is high, yet I have never been stung in North America. The majority of stinging cases that I hear about are due to wasps and not bees. While yellowjackets may be found on flowers in low numbers, planting wildflower gardens will not increase your likelihood of being stung by them. If you want to be stung by yellow jacket wasps, the best thing you can do is get some meat on the BBQ and put out lots of sugary drinks. The vast majority of bees cannot sting humans and most of those that can do not have the propensity to use their stingers. The exception is the honey bee, but even this bee has to be provoked. Bumblebees are capable of stinging humans but you would have to be crushing one in your hand before they used their stinger. In summary, the risk of being stung in a wildflower garden by a bee is actually quite low and wildlife gardeners rarely bring this up as a topic of conversation.

 

Putting up bee houses will increase my chances of getting stung

Bee houses are not the same as bee hives, which are occupied by honey bees. Bee houses are for solitary bees, which do not sting humans. There is absolutely no risk and no downside to putting up a bee house. You will be helping bees out enormously by reducing the distance they have to travel to find nectar and pollen. The same is also true with allowing bees to nest in the ground in your garden. Some people imagine that bee houses will be swarming with bees and will therefore be alarming to people nearby. The insect activity around bee houses is fairly low key. Most people will take no notice of them.

 

Gardens look better with exotic plants

Generally, people plant what nurseries sell. There are a lot of beautiful exotic plants. There are a lot of cultivars that are showier or a different colour than the wild strain of the plant. However, there are many lovely native plants which can be combined to create an aesthetic. It is ironic that many of our native plants are sold abroad as exotics that are highly desirable in the garden!

Native plants are merely wildflowers

..... and therefore do not deserve a place in a garden. This is similar to the misconception above except that some people believe that native plants are just not garden-worthy. First of all, many plants sold in stores are native, but they just didn't tell you! Instead, they give the plants fancy names to make them more enticing. In so doing, box stores and nurseries market the misconception that the only plants worth placing in the garden are the ones they sell.

 

Native plants such as goldenrod cause allergies

Wind transported pollen can cause allergies because they disperse in the air and plants have to produce a lot more pollen to ensure reproduction takes place. Insect transported pollen is sticky and not released into the air to any large degree. Most showy flowers have insect transported pollen that is not known to be a significant cause of allergies. This includes Goldrenrod. Ragweed is wind pollinated and flowers at the same time as Goldenrod, hence the confusion.

 

Planting native plants will produce more oxygen

It is amazing how often people with a scientific background mention the "advantages" of plants being able to produce oxygen. It suggests to people that we are losing our oxygen supplies. First of all, the changes to the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere are minute to the point of being hard to measure. Secondly, plants, whether native or not, respire as well as photosynthesise. In any climax ecosystem, or any other ecosystem in which succession is artificially suspended by human interference, there is no net production of oxygen because respiration uses it all up. Let's put it another way. A typical tree could reasonably be expected to grow for about 40 or 50 years. During that time, there will be a net absorption of carbon by photosynthesis and a net production of oxygen. The only way a tree can grow is through photosynthesis. When it has reached its maximum size, any carbon accumulation is balanced by tree respiration, tree damage, leaf litter production, root sloughing, root dieback and herbivory. And when that tree dies and slowly decomposes, a large part of that carbon is returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide by using up oxygen to oxidise the woody tissue. The amazon rainforest is often said to produce 1/7 of the world's oxygen. It is worth remembering that it probably uses up 1/7 of the world's oxygen as well. In summary, if you have just planted a garden on bare earth, then you will be responsible for some oxygen production while the plants become bigger over the years, but any change in oxygen levels will not have an impact on your health or the environment. There are many reasons to plant native plants, but oxygen production is not one of them.

 

Native plants suffer visible damage from pests while exotic plants do not.

Douglas Tallamy has mentioned this misconception on more than one occasion in his publications. The misconception is based on the idea that if native plants support herbivores, then there will be obvious damage to the plants. Generally the damage is not obvious. When I am showing guests around my garden, I have to point out to them the leaves eaten by monarch butterfly caterpillars.

 

If the plant is good for pollinators, it must be good for the environment.

There are lots of plants that are good for pollinators that are causing environmental problems all over the world. If they outcompete native plants in the local environment, there are knock on effects all the way up the food chain. Invasive plants can have a significant impact on the diversity of organisms within nearby habitats. Gardeners have to show responsibility for their environment beyond the borders of their fence and information about invasive species has been posted in various places on this website.

 

Bees see only ultraviolet.

Bees have maximum sensitivity in the ultraviolet, blue and green range of the spectrum. They can see every colour a human can see except for pure red. They perceive colours differently from us, which appear as one of the three colours to which they are sensitive.

 

Hummingbirds only see red

Hummingbirds see a wide range of colours as well as ultraviolet. In my garden I see them visiting nearly every flower colour present. See this picture.

 

Nectar is for butterflies and pollen is for bees

Nectar is used by a range of insects. Bees use both protein-rich pollen and carbohydrate-rich nectar. Typically, the pollen is fed to the larvae.

 

Honey bees are better than native bees at pollinating flowers

There are many bees that can pollinate crops and actually work harder than honeybees. Honeybees are important for large-scale commercial crop growers because the hive is a concentrated source of bees that can be easily moved from one place to another. No other bee exists in such large numbers inside a nest that can be transported from place to place and therefore other species are not that useful for commercial pollinator businesses.

 

The decline of honey bees means my vegetables will not get pollinated

If you plant your vegetables next to flower beds, you will have no trouble getting your crops to be pollinated by bees. A large number of bees are generalists. That means they do not have to visit a particular species to obtain nectar. Bumblebees are excellent pollinators of vegetables.

 

The decline of honey bees is terrible for the environment.

For North American environments, the decline of the honey bee is not a catastrophe because it has been introduced. Its decline could be an indication of combination of environmental problems that we are ourselves causing. If the honey bee were to disappear tomorrow, farmers would still be able to grow crops but they would have to encourage the presence of different bees as a replacement, which might involve an alteration of farming techniques.

Bees are good and wasps are bad

Many misconceptions about pollinators are the cause of this overall generalisation. Many people know that bees produce honey. However only one bee produces honey, the non-native honey bee from Europe or Africa. The thousands of other bee species present do not make honey. A lot of people believe that only bees are pollinators and they ignore the large numbers of wasps that also pollinate plants. Some people believe that only wasps will sting you. While yellowjackets have a higher propensity to sting, the vast majority of wasp species are unlikely to sting you unless severely aggravated. It is also conveniently forgotten that wasps do a great job of removing unwanted insect pests in gardens and on farms. See beneficial wasps.

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Main page

Setting up a wildlife garden

Plants for butterflies

Plants for bees

Plants for hummingbirds

Plants for birds

Plant map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main page

Setting up a wildlife garden

Plants for butterflies

Plants for bees

Plants for hummingbirds

Plants for birds

Plant map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main page

Setting up a wildlife garden

Plants for butterflies

Plants for bees

Plants for hummingbirds

Plants for birds

Plant map