May 09, 2024

Plant of the Month: Sticky Purple Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum)

Sticky purple geranium or sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum) is protocarnivorous, meaning it has the ability to dissolve insects or other protein sources that land on their sticky leaves and become trapped. From these trapped insects the plant absorbs nitrogen. Protocarnivorous and carnivorous plants typically evolved in nutrient poor environments.

Sticky hairs cover the leaves and stems of the sticky purple geranium. The leaves are palmately lobed with 5 to 7 pointed lobes and are attached to the stem via long stocks. The flowers have five petals that range from a light purple-pink to a deep purple magenta with darker veins and long soft hairs near the base of the petals. The petals are slightly notched. The flowers grow in clusters of 2 or more, with the stem typically forking after the leaves.

Germination of the sticky purple geranium is low, but can be improved with scarification practices such as sanding the seed then soaking in water. Additionally, it may take up to three years for the flowers to become established. The sticky geranium is drought tolerant and grows in full sun to partial shade.

They are a perennial species that are native to Western United States, British Columbia, and southern Alberta found within the rose family (Rosaceae).

Sticky purple geranium has cultural significance to Indigenous peoples, including Sylix/Okanogan; Nlaka'pmx, Colville and Sanpoil; Blackfoot/Siksika. They used this flower for medicinal purposes, including encouraging blood clotting, treating colds and skin and eye conditions. The sticky purple geranium was also used as a food preservative. In European culture the geraniums were given as gifts to brides and to hosts.

Flies, butterflies, bees (solitary bees, bumble bees, and honey bees), wasps and true bugs have been associated with the sticky purple geranium. A correlation was found between a decline in sticky purple geraniums and a decline in pollinators, suggesting they play an important ecological role. The sticky purple geranium also acts as a food source to birds and mammals who eat their seeds and leaves.

Sticky purple geranium pictured from a top view

Posted on May 09, 2024 03:59 PM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 23, 2024

Pollinator of the Month: Texas Striped Sweat Bee (Agapostemon texanus)

Texas striped sweat bee is scientifically referred to as Agapostemon texanus. The genus name Agapostemon means stamen loving, which has Greek origins and refers to their need to forage pollen. The species name texanus refers to Texas, as this type of specimen has been found there. They belong within the sweat bee family ( Halictidae). This family consists of small, non-aggressive bees with short tongues. Sweat bees are also attracted to sweat, hence their name, which allows them to obtain minerals and moisture.

Texas striped sweat bee is easily recognizable by its green metallic coloration. This is a structural colour, which is caused by light reflecting based off of structure rather than producing pigments. The females have an entire body that is brilliant blue-green, while the males have a head and thorax that are brilliant blue-green and an abdomen that is brownish black with yellow bands. The males are also smaller than the females, measuring 9-10 mm in length compared to 11 mm for the females. Due to the short tongues of the Texas striped sweat bee they have a more limited ability to access nectar from deep flowers. However, it is considered a generalist forager, visiting a wide range of flowers, including as aster, cerasus, fragaria, geranium, prunus, rubus, senecio, amorpha, brauneria, cassia, cephalanthus, cirsium, coreopsis, helianthus, lepachys, petalostemon, pycnanthemum, rhus, verbena and veronica.

The Texas striped sweat bee ranges from southern Canada to central Costa Rica, but it is most commonly found in the western coast of the United States. At its northern range females have been observed from May through October and males from July through October. Two generations of the Texas striped sweat bee are produced per year. In the fall fertilized females overwinter in their nests while males typically die. In the spring the fertilized females emerge; build a nest underground in bare, loamy soil; lay their eggs in brood chambers; provide pollen provisions for their eggs, then die. The eggs hatch after 5 weeks and the larvae mature after 30-35 days. This generation is mostly females as they emerged from fertilized eggs. To fix the skewed sex ratio these females lay unfertilized haploid eggs that develop into males. During the summer months the male and female Texas striped sweat bees mate. Then the cycle repeats.

side view green iridescent bee resting on a yellow and white flower

top view of a texas striped sweat bee on a yellow flower

Posted on April 23, 2024 04:59 PM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 10, 2024

Plant of the Month: Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) belong to the aster family (Asteraceae). The name dandelion means lion’s tooth, which likely refers to its jagged leaves. The scientific name of the Taraxacum officinale means “the official remedy for disorders” or “of pharmaceutical value”. This reflects the fact that dandelions have been cultivated in gardens for food, as nearly all parts of this plant can be eaten, and medicine since the mid-1600s.

The common dandelion originated in Eurasia. They spread rapidly after the last ice age due to glaciers retreating leaving bare land to be colonized. They are now naturalized in all parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and can grow in almost any soil and climate. They are especially good at colonizing disturbed habitats, such as lawns, roadsides, and fields.

Dandelions are short-lived perennials. Their leaves are green and may be entire or lobed. The leaves are arranged in a rosette around the stem. The stem is hollow and produces a bitter white latex that deters animals from eating it and can help clog up any wounds a dandelion incurs. A bright yellow flower sits atop the stem and they bloom very early in the spring. These flowers are actually composed of numerous ray and disc flowers.
eat

Dandelion flowers reflect ultraviolet light, which attracts insects, including bees, who feed on the pollen and nectar. They are an important nectar source early in the season as they are one of the first flowers to emerge in the spring when there are few other flowers in bloom.

Although dandelions are great for early season pollinators they can also produce seeds without pollination. Through a process known as apomixis, the female portions of the flower produce seeds on their own, which leads to genetically identical offspring. Each plant can produce 1000-2000 seeds per year. The seeds have tufts of hair that are carried by the wind with tiny fruits attached to the end. Dandelions can also reproduce from pieces of taproot that can grow new plants if they are broken off and dispersed.

The horned or fleshy dandelion (Taraxacum ceratophorum) is a native dandelion that grows in Alberta. Differentiating a horned dandelion from a common dandelion can be difficult, however one difference they exhibit is in their involucral bracts (modified leaves present at the base of the flower). For the horned dandelion, the inner bracts have hardened or calloused tips.

Horned dandelion
“Involucral

Common dandelion
Involucral bracts of a common dandelion

Posted on April 10, 2024 02:57 AM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 03, 2024

April 2024 Announcements

Hello Everyone!

Spring is here and all of our lovely pollinators will bee out and about soon! 🐝🪲🐞

I am excited to announce that our first community pollinator walk of 2024 will be at Nose Hill Park on Sunday April 28 from 1:00-2:30pm. ☀️ You can register for the walk here.

You can also find more information about upcoming events and other community science projects on the new Community Science page on the University of Calgary Biodiversity website. I would also encourage you to check out the Rare Plants of Alberta Project. - Rare Plants of Alberta iNaturalist page

I would like to say thank you again for the amazing turn out at pollinator walks last year and to everyone who participated in the community science survey! We had such a great turn out and so much positive feedback that we would like to continue them this summer! However, we would like to ask for your help hosting the walks! I am looking for a few lovely volunteers who would be willing to help lead groups on the pollinator walks. You don’t have to commit to hosting all of them, even helping with just one or two events would be greatly appreciated!

The good news is I have recently accepted a reclamation biology position with Jacobs! The bad news is that because I will be traveling a large part of the summer to do field work, I cannot guarantee I will be around to host all the pollinator walks on my own. Please reach out if you would be interested in helping host events this summer. Send an email to contact.appc.hub@gmail.com

I hope to see you at Nose Hill at the end of the month! A reminder that April 26-29 is also the annual City Nature Challenge! CNC iNaturalist page

Warm regards,
Justine

Posted on April 03, 2024 10:33 PM by jdo77 jdo77 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 24, 2024

Pollinator of the Month: Margined calligrapher (Toxomerus marginatus)

The margined calligrapher (Toxomerus marginatus) belongs to the order of flies (Diptera), which is one of the most diverse groups of insects. More specifically, they belong in the hoverfly or flower fly family (Syrphidae). The name hoverfly comes from their ability to hover when flying, which is used during mating or feeding. The name flower fly may come from the fact that they are commonly seen pollinating flowers. There are about 900 species of hoverflies in North America.

Hoverflies typically mimic bees or wasps with their yellow and black striped abdomens. This is a form of Batesian mimicry, where a harmless organism resembles a harmful one to reduce its risk of predation. Hoverflies can be distinguished from bees or wasps as they only have one pair of wings, whereas bees and wasps have two pairs of wings. Hoverflies also have bigger eyes that are located at the front of their heads while wasps and bees have smaller eyes that are located at the sides of their heads. Hoverflies also have shorter antennae than wasps and bees. Hoverflies do not have stingers, and they are actually beneficial insects that eat plant pests and pollinate flowers.

The margined calligrapher (Toxomerus marginatus) belongs to a genus commonly referred to as the calligrapher flies, named for the fine black etchings found on their abdomens. These markings on the margined calligrapher form a closed margins around the sections of their abdomens. These markings help them mimic wasps or bees, however they are smaller than bees as they are typically only 5 to 6 mm. The female margined calligrapher can be distinguished from the males as the females eyes do not touch but the males eyes do. The margined calligrapher is found throughout North America, including Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

The adult margined calligraphers eat nectar, which gives them an incentive to visit and pollinate flowers. They visit flowers such as spiderwort, calico aster, groundsel, and whiteweed. The larvae, who are a light yellowish green, eat soft bodied insects which tend to be plant pests, including aphids and thrips. As the larvae feed on pests, the margined calligrapher can be considered a biological control agent.

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Posted on March 24, 2024 12:12 AM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 09, 2024

Plant of the Month: Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis)

Hello everyone,

Unlike previous plant of the month posts, this post will be focused on Kentucky bluegrass. Like most grasses (Poaceae), Kentucky bluegrass is wind pollinated, and does not require insect pollinators for its survival. Therefore Kentucky bluegrass does not support pollinators. However, we thought it would be a good idea to focus on this grass this month given the commonality and ecological impact Kentucky bluegrass has.

Kentucky bluegrass is a threat to biodiversity, a drain on resources, and a sign of conformity and status. Kentucky bluegrass is typically not worth the cost and the trouble.

Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is a perennial grass that is native to Europe and Asia, but was introduced to North America by early settlers who wanted to use it as a pasture grass for their livestock. It is now the most commonly grown crop in the United States, covering millions of acres of lawns, golf courses, and parks. However, Kentucky bluegrass is a harmful plant that has many negative impacts on the environment and society.

One of the main problems with Kentucky bluegrass is that it outcompetes native plants. This reduces biodiversity. Kentucky bluegrass can spread rapidly and form dense monocultures, which, in addition to having negative impacts to biodiversity, can also negatively impact soil health. In Alberta, transforming natural landscapes with Kentucky bluegrass is of special concern as North American grasslands are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world.

Another problem with Kentucky bluegrass is that it requires a lot of resources and maintenance, which can be quite costly and time consuming. Kentucky bluegrass needs more water and more nutrients than native grasses. This is especially concerning, considering the droughts and water shortages that many places are facing. Lawns require the equivalent of 200 gallons of drinking water per person per day. Additionally, fertilizer used on the grass can end up in waterways when it rains which harms the water ecosystems as it leads to algal blooms that use up the oxygen in the water causing the other organisms to die (eutrophication). This also impacts water quality. Kentucky bluegrass is also frequently mowed to maintain its appearance, which consumes fossil fuels and emits greenhouse gasses. Mowing lawns also gets rid of important nectar resources for pollinators.

The popularity of Kentucky bluegrass is likely due to its historical ties to wealth and status. As Kentucky bluegrass was becoming popular it could only be maintained by those with enough leisure time or money to take care of this crop. People still grow yards to fit in with their neighbours, which can be mandated by various homeowner associations. However, Kentucky bluegrass does not provide any useful functions, such as supporting pollinators or producing food.

Instead of having a Kentucky bluegrass yard, try planting a native wildflowers or native grasses as plants native to Calgary require less resources and have ecological benefits. If you undergo the process of naturalizing your yard make sure you are looking out for invasive species that can crop up, and make sure the plants you are planting are actually native to Calgary as many stores sell wildflower packs that include non-native species. Alberta Native Plants ( https://alclanativeplants.com/ ), Wild About Flowers ( https://www.wildaboutflowers.ca/ ) and the city of Calgary ( https://www.calgary.ca/water/programs/yardsmart.html ) are excellent resources to learn more about plants that are native to Calgary!

What is preventing you from naturalizing your yard?

A few blades of Kentucky bluegrass, in focus and surrounded by out of focus blades of Kentucky bluegrass in the background

Posted on March 09, 2024 09:10 PM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 24, 2024

Pollinator of the Month: Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

The mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) is a native butterfly that can be found throughout the northern hemisphere. They spend their winters hibernating in crevices as adults. To survive the winters they have thick sugar syrup in their veins, which does not freeze. During the winter they may occasionally and temporarily emerge from their hibernation during warm spells. They usually emerge before the snow has fully melted, and are often the first butterfly that can be observed in the spring. They are most abundant in Alberta during the spring months. During these months they feed on sap, rotting fruit, and nectar from flowers. Mourning cloaks may also enter a summer hibernation (aestivation) due to dry conditions.

They have a wingspan of about three inches, which make a clicking sound when they fly. Their upper side of their wings are dark maroon wings with a creamy yellow border. Inside this creamy yellow border there are spots of iridescent blue. The underside of the wings are black with a yellow margin to help the butterfly blend in with the bark of trees.

The eggs are whitish and laid in clusters of rings, though they turn darker closer to their hatching. These eggs are laid on branches of deciduous trees, such as willow, elm, hackberry, cottonwood, poplar, rose, birch, and mulberry trees. The caterpillars are covered in branched spines, small white dots, and large orange-red spots. They can become pests, causing damage to the plants that they eat. Their chrysalis’ are gray, with two rows of spines that have red tips.

The mourning cloak’s scientific name has mythical origins as it was based on the Greek figure Antiope, who was the leader of the Amazon.

a mourning cloak butterfly with their wings closed, hanging on a branch. They are pictured in a side view
a mourning cloak butterfly with their wings opened, resting on the ground. They are pictured from above

Posted on February 24, 2024 07:41 AM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 16, 2024

New webpage for Community Science!

Hi Everyone,

The Calgary Pollinator Project has exciting news! We now have a community science page on the University of Calgary Biodiversity site! This page will be where we post about upcoming events and new community science projects. Feel free to check out the pages below!

Community Science and Events
Calgary Pollinator Project

There is a new community science project at the U of C this year! My colleague, Tory, is starting up a new project: Rare Plants of Alberta. They are studying Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) and Sticky Purple Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum). She will be hosting plant walks near Lethbridge this summer to learn more about these rare plants and their habitats. I encourage you to check out their project and join their events if you can!

I hope everyone has a wonderful Family Day long weekend!

Cheers,
Justine

bumble

Posted on February 16, 2024 11:35 PM by jdo77 jdo77 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 09, 2024

Plant of the Month: Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is a native plant to western North America that belongs to the Apocynaceae family. Its genus is named after the Greek god of medicine, Asklepios. The species name, speciosa, refers to the flowers' showy appearance.

Showy milkweed grows 1.5 to 5 feet tall on an erect stem that has opposite leaves growing along it. The leaves are blue-green to gray-green in colour, are 4 - 7 inches long , oval, and covered in velvety hairs. The flowers form loose spherical clusters at the top of the stems. The flowers have a star-like or crown-like appearance that are purple-pinkish in colour. However, the flowers turn yellow as they age. They produce reddish-brown silky-tailed seeds that spread via the wind. They exude a milky latex sap from their stems and leaves if they are cut.

Showy milkweed is somewhat weedy in appearance which might discourage some from planting it, but is less prone to spreading and more manageable than common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). It can hybridize with common milkweed, creating intermediate forms. Showy milkweed is a good choice for a native plant garden, as it attracts wildlife and provides coluor and texture. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil, and is drought-tolerant and deer-resistant.

Showy milkweed is an important food source for many insects, especially for the monarch butterfly as milkweed is their host plant. Other insects that have been observed visiting this plant within Calgary include bumble bees, European honey bees, and ants.

Showy milkweed is also useful for humans in various ways as showy milkweed is considered one of the least toxic milkweed species. The plant can be used as a cleansing and healing agent, specifically helping with warts, cuts, ringworm, colds, and swelling. The young and immature parts of the plant can be eaten as a vegetable and the sap has been used to make a gum. The tough fibers of the plant have been used to make fabric, textiles, rope, and many other items.

a clump of light pink star-shaped showy milkweed flowers surrounded by large green leaves with an orange central vein

Posted on February 09, 2024 09:03 PM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 1 comment | Leave a comment

January 23, 2024

Pollinator of the Month: Ornate checkered beetle (Trichoda ornatus)

We previously featured the two-spotted lady beetle as a pollinator of the month since lady beetles benefit flowers through accidental pollination and through the pest control services they provide, however there are many species of beetles that pollinate flowers because they eat the pollen. There is a long history of beetles pollinating flowers as they existed before other common insect pollinators evolved. This includes soldier beetles, scarabs, long-horned beetles, sap beetles, and checkered beetles.

The ornate checkered beetle (Trichoda ornatus) is native to Canada. They are 5 to 15mm long, though they experience sexual dimorphism with the females being significantly longer. They are a metallic blue-black colour and a bright yellow to red blob-like pattern. They are also covered in long sparse hairs.

The genus name Trichodes refers to the hairs they are covered in and the word has Greek origins. The species name ornatus is Latin and refers to their decorated appearance.

They are found throughout Western North America, typically on flowers such as yarrow, asters, fleabane, daisies, buckwheats, cinquefoils, groundsels, or elderberries. This is because they lay their eggs on the flower heads. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae will attach to the legs of Hymenoptera, typically a leaf cutter bee or a potter wasp, who was pollinating the flower. The ornate checkered beetle is brought back to the nest of the Hymenoptera, where it enters a cell meant for the Hymenoptera larvae. Once the cell is sealed with food provisions and the Hymenoptera larvae, the beetle begins to feast. First eating the pollen and honey provisions then eating the Hymenoptera larvae. The ornate checkered beetle larvae eat 1 to 8 Hymenoptera larvae. They then pupate and overwinter in this state. When the adults emerge they feed on pollen from flowers.

yellow and blue-black ornate checkered beetle on yellow flowers

Posted on January 23, 2024 06:43 PM by kiarra13 kiarra13 | 0 comments | Leave a comment