It’s pollinator week, which means it’s time to celebrate everything that tweets, buzzes, and flaps.
Now if this was last summer and a bee was to find its way into the Park People office, I would be the first to dive under my desk screaming kill it kill it! But since working on our Bee Line on the Green Line project—where we partnered with community members and the City to create pollinator gardens along the Green Line linear park and trail— I’ve come not only to appreciate our buzzing friends, but I’ve become a tiny bit obsessed with them.
Because bees are not only critically important to our ecosystem and food supply (much of the food we like to eat are a result of pollination), but it turns out they’re pretty damn fascinating.
For example, did you know that most native bees in Toronto don’t live in the hives, but are “solitary bees” that nest by burrowing into sticks or even dirt? Or that only honey bees make honey and the rest of the bee population uses the nectar made from pollen to just feed themselves and their young?
And did you know Toronto has 350 species of bees, but also has an “unofficial bee” called the Bicoloured Agapostemon, which can be easily identified by its showy metallic green head? These bees share entrances into a communal nest, but each live inside their own separate area, like a bee condo. Can you get any more Toronto than that?
And, since I’m a big fan of horror films and recently just re-watched the Alien series, I’ll leave this last tidbit with you: there is a certain fly that inserts barbed eggs into a bee’s abdomen, which then hatch and eat the bee from the inside out. It’s not easy being a bee.
But the main reason it’s not easy is due to habitat loss from urbanization and reduced biodiversity in our urban environment. That lush grass lawn we love to spread blankets on for park picnics? Not the greatest if you’re a bee foraging for food. The number one thing we can do to help the native bee population is to create more pollinator-friendly habitat using native plants.
So, with the Bee Line on the Green Line, that’s what we’ve done.
Through partnering with City of Toronto park staff and a group of dedicated, amazing garden stewards from the neighbourhoods around the Green Line, we planted pollinator-friendly gardens in four parks on the Green Line: Earlscourt, Bartlett, Garrison Creek and Frankel Lambert.
These gardens are filled with native plants like milkweed, hoary vervain, black-eyed susan, bergamot, and my personal favourite: hairy beardtongue—all plants our native bee population have co-evolved with over time.
Through the Bee Line on the Green Line, we created more than 400 square feet of new pollinator habitat—with the largest at Earlscourt Park along the sloping path down to Davenport. The rest of the gardens, while smaller, provide critical “nodes” along the Green Line corridor for bees to forage and find habitat.
Creating habitat along a corridor is one of the key moves proposed in the City’s draft pollinator strategy, along with creating new natural habitat, working in partnership, and celebrating successes. Speaking of celebrating success:
We did that this past weekend when we celebrated our pollinator friends, and all the work that has gone into the gardens, with a big party. For that we partnered with Clay and Paper Theatre to put on an amazing Bee Line on the Green Line Parade and Pageant, which saw people come out to don giant bee, butterfly, and bird costumes that were made in community art workshops over the last month, and march down the Green Line. We even had a bee band.
The parade culminated with a party in Bartlett Parkette with more music and dance provided by Clay and Paper Theatre, Balfolk, and Candy Apple Jazz organized of Rootdown Studio.
All of this was to raise awareness of the importance of bees in Toronto and what we can do to help them flourish. Because when bees do well, we do well. If you’re interested in helping out our local bee population and creating a “node” of your own in your yard on balcony, consider planting some of these:
- Monarda didyma (Bee Balm)
- Moarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot)
- Oenothera biennia (Evening Primrose)
- Liatris spicata (Blazing Star)
- Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)
- Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed)
- Penstemon hirsutus (Hairy Beardtongue)
- Verbena stricta (Hoary Vervain)
Thank you to TD Friends of the Environment Foundation for funding the Bee Line on the Green Line, and to Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation for their additional support. A huge thanks to our partner Clay and Paper Theatre for their amazing, inspiring work on the Bee Line parade and pageant.
Finally, a special thanks to the City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Division staff, especially Patricia Landry. Without her, this project would not have happened.
To read more about bees in Toronto check out the great Bees of Toronto guidebook put out by the City of Toronto.