Late Bloomers Needed!

If you look around Squamish these days you’ll see late blooming plants here and there. Among the flowers in open areas, by trails, by roads, and by dikes you’ll see goldenrods, asters, and clovers: all are super sources of pollen and nectar for pollinators. In local gardens you’ll see asters, late sedums, black-eyed Susans and shrubby rock roses, all cultivated plants that can offer important nutrition.

Why is it important for us to provide and support these late bloomers? Many species of pollinators have already completed their life cycles by mid-September but others need food to continue. The bees come to mind first. We have late bumble bee males who need to find food to keep themselves going until they can find a mate. The late bumble bee queens need to find enough food after mating to fatten up and find a place to survive the winter. Honey bees are still foraging to help their colonies survive the winter, either in a cultivated hive or in a nest built by individuals that have naturalized. Some female leafcutter bees are still collecting pollen with their “belly brushes” to provision their nests. Some sweat bees (like the handsome individual above) are still foraging.

Female (queen) orange-rumped bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus) on cultivated aster. She needs to fatten up enough to survive the winter in hibernation and be ready to build a nest in spring.

Other insects use the flowers, too.  A few species of butterfly overwinter here as adults and you might see them nectaring now. Dragonflies, common in fall, use the flowers in a different way. They can appear to be nectaring, but they are hunting small insects that are feeding in flowers. Many species of flower flies don’t emerge until mid summer and they can be looking for food well into October. Providing food sources for all these insects helps them complete their life cycles and also helps ensure there is food for our fall-migrating birds.

This Red Admiral was nectaring on a native aster along the Mamquam Blind Channel. This species is migratory and individuals sometimes overwinter here as adults.

Insect populations have been suffering here this year. Numbers and diversity are down, with drought and habitat loss no doubt part of the reason. Please do what you can to help. Plant late blooming flowers, leave weedy spaces for flowering plants to grow, avoid mowing plants in bloom, and encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same.

See more insects taking advantage of late blooming flowers: all photos were taken in the Squamish area between September 9 and October 6 and are used by permission.

Banner: A male Texas Striped Sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus) was foraging on a devil’s beggartick (Bidens frondosa) beside the Corridor Trail. Not often seen here, the plant is a native annual and is unusual for its rayless flowers.