PLEASE NOTE ~ Pollination Canada, as a project under the umbrella of Seeds of Diversity Canada, is in the process of applying for funding to launch this citizen science project after running a pilot project. Therefore, it is not currently operating. However, if you wish to be placed on a list to participate when it is live, please email info(at)pollinationcanada.ca
The Purplestem Aster Project is asking YOU to become a citizen scientist! Help researchers in Canada monitor pollination health. Simply grow these native plants from seed or seedlings in full or part sun, or locate a patch of purplestem asters already growing along your favourite hiking path or other outdoor location that you visit. (If you are growing these native perennials from seed, they won’t produce flowers in their first year. Take delight in nurturing your seedlings, and we’ll hope for results in the second year!). These plants do enjoy moisture (one of their common names is Swamp Aster), but will survive with just a couple waterings per week.
All you need to do is observe at least three (3) purplestem aster plants as they flower. A couple weeks later, when the withered flower has become a seed-head, you just need to snip off five (5) such seedheads from each of the plants included in your adventure, and then make sure that we receive those seedheads back here at the Seeds of Diversity office. We will then count the fertilized (therefore pollinated) seeds, which is a reflection of how well the pollinators in your area are thriving, when results are compared against consecutive years.
Insect pollinators (bees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies and moths) enable the presence of up to 88% of plants worldwide. In terms of food crops, pollinators are directly responsible for every third bite (33%) of food that we enjoy, allowing us to savour the tastes of chocolate, coffee, vanilla, berries, and almonds, to name just a few. Plants that rely on insects not only offer beauty and biodiversity to our environs, they provide us with other materials such as dyes, essences, beneficial drugs, fibres and fuel, and support various wildlife.
The widely-reported decline of honeybees brought public attention to dwindling populations in both the honeybee industry and native pollinators. One common factor found in struggling hives is due to nutritional stress, because there is a lack of access to a wide variety of plants that provide food (called forage). Another common factor in the decline of native bee populations (think bumble bees, mason bees, sweat bees, carpenter bees, etcetera) is a decrease in the land available for nesting (called habitat). The use of chemicals (e.g., herbicides and pesticides, but especially those called neonicotinoids) have also led to a decline in bee populations. Diseases and pests also contribute to the declines, as does climate change.
Monitoring programs that track the abundance and diversity of pollinators create awareness and allow conservationists to take appropriate measures, if the need arises in the future. For example, the North America Butterfly Association has conducted annual Fourth of July Butterfly Counts across North America since 1975. As a result, count comparisons over the years have revealed the effects of weather and habitat changes on North American butterflies.
Many monitoring programs encourage the participation of ordinary citizens to help make observations and report them, giving rise to the concepts of “citizen science” and “citizen scientists.” For example, The Great Sunflower Project has been in operation since 2008, recording citizens’ sightings of bees on suggested flowers such as the Lemon Queen Sunflower. That project presents a way to gather information about urban, suburban and rural bee populations and gives you the tools to learn about what is happening with the pollinators in your yard.
Pollination refers to the movement of pollen within a flower or from one flower to another, facilitated by animals (bees, wasps, beetles, flies, butterflies and moths, as well as bats and birds), the wind, or water. This transfer of pollen in and among blooms leads to fertilization and successful seed and fruit production for the plant, allowing the species' continued survival. Pollen grains moved by wind and water include those belonging to grasses and sedges. So pollinating insects have no effect on these plants – they will continue to grow and proliferate without pollinators. However, we need pollinators to ensure the continued survival of apples, pears, cucumbers, melons, berries, and many other kinds of Canadian farm produce. One out of every three bites of food you eat is a direct result of pollination, thanks to pollinators!
The Purplestem Aster Pollination Adventure (PAPA) has been developed as a quick, simple and easy way to monitor pollination services. Such biomonitoring usually focuses on the animal communities (that is, the pollinating insects themselves – well over 800 species of native bees in Canada, over 150,000 species of flies, to give you a relative idea) but such sampling and observing is both labour intensive and costly. Very few people are equipped to expertly identify insects down to the species level. Thus, PAPA represents a simple, cost-effective way to measure pollination services, useable in any habitat in Canada, from national parks to densely populated urban areas.
The purplestem aster has a growing range right across Canada, coast to coast, apparently even growing as far north as Mackenzie King and Borden Islands! (see map at Ontario Wildflowers website). Even though most literature cites the purplestem aster as a moisture loving plant, it should fare well with just a couple of waterings per week, regardless of rainfall. And while many references indicate it prefers full sun, the purplestem aster will also grow in part-sun.
The purplestem aster typically blooms (its flowers open) in late August or early September. Not all blooms will open at once. The flowers will open over several days. You just need to observe each plant while it is blooming, ensuring that you capture the seedheads before the seed is dispersed.