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Paradise for Pollinators at Princess Point

October 4, 2023

By Mallory Peirce, Terrestrial Ecologist; Ashley Cramer, Terrestrial Ecologist Intern; and Lindsay Barr, Senior Terrestrial Ecologist, Royal Botanical Gardens

In June 2022, a special project was underway at Princess Point. The Rotary Club of Hamilton approached RBG with the hopes of building a pollinator garden and RBG ecologists enthusiastically agreed to help. Princess Point was the desired location, as it is already a grassland bustling with pollinators. The primary goal of the pollinator garden was to act as a pollinator’s oasis, and secondarily as a demonstration garden for visitors who might be interested in building their own haven for pollinators.

The most common misconception that people have about native plants is that they look “unkept”. That’s why when RBG’s ecologists were planning the design of the pollinator garden, the placement of each plant was carefully thought out. The key to an eye-catching and aesthetically-pleasing native pollinator gardens are the same as the basic principles of non-native gardening – it’s all about getting to know the plant! Some characteristics to consider when planting a pollinator garden are the plant’s bloom period and colour, along with the plant’s maximum height. Other factors to consider are the amount of light in the proposed garden site, soil type, and water conditions. By learning a little about native plants, a beautiful pollinator-friendly garden can be achieved.

Rotary Club of Hamilton volunteers and RBG volunteers planting native plants
Rotary Club of Hamilton volunteers and RBG volunteers assisted RBG ecologists by planting 2,579 native plants!

A few examples of the 22 native plant species that were incorporated into the pollinator garden include:

Native Plant Species Associated Pollinators
Prairie Smoke
(Geum triflorum)
Many species of Bumblebees
Butterfly Milkweed
(Asclepias tuberosa)
Monarch butterfly
Spotted Bee Balm
(Monarda punctata)
Orange Mint Moth
Dense Blazing Star
(Liatris spicata)
Peck’s Skipper
Stiff Goldenrod
(Solidago rigida)
Species of Dart Moths
Canada Milk Vetch
(Astragalus canadensis)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
False Sunflower
(Heliopsis helianthoides)
Sweat bees, Hummingbird Clearwing moth
Pearly Everlasting
(Anaphalis margaritacea)
American Lady butterfly
Sky Blue Aster
(Symphyotrichum oolentangiense)
Larval host of Pearl Crescent butterfly
large bumblebee utilizing wild bergamot flowers
Bees utilizing Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).

Members of the Rotary Club of Hamilton and RBG volunteers dedicated a combined 16 hours of planting. An additional 25.5 volunteer hours were contributed toward site preparation and weeding after the planting was complete.

It goes without saying that our native pollinators are lacking habitat, but planting native plant species can make a large difference. After a year of growth, the pollinator garden at Princess Point was absolutely bustling with pollinators in 2023. A sense of fulfillment swept over RBG ecologists and volunteers as they saw many pollinators utilizing the garden this summer.

But how can one tell if their pollinator habitat is truly ecologically successful?

Post-planting satisfaction! Rotary Club of Hamilton volunteers, alongside RBG volunteers.
Post-planting satisfaction! Rotary Club of Hamilton volunteers, alongside RBG volunteers.

To measure the ecological success of the pollinator garden, and other restored grassland sites like Princess Point, RBG conducts annual Butterfly Counts across its property. RBG staff and volunteers spend a few hot, sunny days in July surveying grassland sites for butterflies. The presence or, in some cases, absence of certain butterflies can indicate how the ecosystem is functioning.

2023 was the 22nd year of the long-standing monitoring program, which uses the total number of butterfly species and individuals present as an indicator of a functioning ecosystem. Butterflies have short life cycles and are sensitive to changes in their environment, such as habitat fragmentation and availability of native plants. Therefore, their presence, or absence, can be used as an early detection system that indicates the status of the ecosystem.

Butterfly count volunteer holding a pamphlet with various butterfly species
RBG’s Butterfly Count brings together staff and volunteers for hours of fun!

At Princess Point, the number of butterflies counted in a single year has increased by 108 individuals since 2019. In July 2023, we found 15 Monarchs within the prairie. The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a Species-at-Risk in Canada, and we are encouraged by their use of the area. We also found 14 additional species, including Tiger Swallowtail, Red Admiral, and Great Spangled Fritillary, to name a few! It is our hope that over time we will see a larger diversity of butterflies utilizing both RBG’s grassland and pollinator garden habitats and contributing to the pollination of our ecosystems.

monarch butterfly in a clear circular container
Monarch butterfly
Red Admiral butterfly in a clear circular container
Red Admiral
Line chart indicating the exponential growth of the Total number of butterflies at Princess Point from 2019 to 2023

RBG would like to thank the Rotary Club of Hamilton for their generous contribution to the Pollinator Garden at Princess Point. The impact of this demonstration garden will be an on-going gift to our community.

Princess Point Pollinator Garden
RBG’s Pollinator Garden, Princess Point, July 2023.

For further information on native plants, please visit the following websites:

If you want to see native flowers on display, please visit the Pollinator Garden at Princess Point or the Helen M. Kippax Garden in Hendrie Park.

Are you interested in purchasing your own native plants? Here is a list of retailers in Southern Ontario:

If you’d like to try growing your own native plants from seeds, RBG’s Seed Library is a great place to take native seed home to propagate!

Watch this video for more information on RBG’s Annual Butterfly Count!

Support Conservation at RBG

These conservation projects are possible thanks to the generous support of RBG Members and donors. With a donation to Growing up Green, you can ensure an active, vibrant and healthy future for the children of today and tomorrow through our horticultural and conservation projects.