Friday, September 30, 2022

homage to Indigenous Plants and their pollinators

harvesting tomatoes from my wall garden in September

On Tuesday I spoke on "My Wall" to the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto. I'm not going to go into great detail here, as a recording of the talk will eventually go up on our Youtube channel.  (And by the way, some older talks are at my own channel).

What I am going to do on this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is highlight how the three plants I grew this year on my wall were all domesticated by native peoples of the Central and South Americas. Keeping this in mind every time you eat something in tomato sauce or eat French fries is a way of enriching your food appreciation with Indigenous history.

"TomTato" - cherry tomato grafted on potato

Did you know that tomatoes and potatoes are kissing cousins in the plant world? In the talk I go into the way this confused early botanists as they tried to classify these natives of the Andean slopes and lowlands of Peru and Chile. But the picture of the grafted TomTato above makes their closeness clear. Yes, this plant grew hundreds of cherry tomatoes and a dozen good size potatoes!

There are still dozens of wild species of tomato and potato in the Americas, and plant breeders make good use of them to add disease resistance or better flavour to domestic varieties. We know that the Aztecs had tomatoes that had been selected to be bigger than the cherry-sized wild species, which they grew in their sophisticated floating gardens or ChinampasThe Nahuatl word for tomatoes and their relatives the tomatillos is tomatl. Ancestors of our large garden tomatoes probably weren't grown in Canada because they need a long hot season, but tomatillos certainly were here (they can be found wild if you look for them). Try some of the great Mexican recipes for tomatillo salsa verde or tomatillo chicken

artist's depiction of chinampas on Mexican lakes

The tomatoes and potatoes are in the plant family Solanaceae. They have adaptations to special pollinators. The pollen in the flowers is tightly held and doesn't rub off easily, making invasive species like honey bees poor pollinators. But, if a bumblebee lands on a flower, it vibrates its wing muscles at a certain frequency. This sends "shivers" up the flower which then releases its pollen to fall onto the abundant hairs on the bumblebee.

There are a number of special pollinators of plants domesticated by Indigenous people. The local wild ground cherry (tomatillo) is pollinated by the broad footed cellophane bee (Colletes latitarsis). Cellophane? These bees nest in moist ground. They line their tunnels with a secretion that dries to a clear, water-resistant substance that reminds people of cellophane. This keeps their young and the stored pollen clean and dry.
broad footed cellophane bee, Packer Lab - search for "bugsrus"

Up to ten species of tomatillos and related ground cherries were used by Indigenous peoples of North America - for details you can download the massive 1991 book "Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany, and Use" by Harriet Kuhnlein and Nancy Turner (hint: page 173). Any Ontario archaeologists out there? Have these been found at pre-European sites here?

One of the best heritage tomatoes for taste and colour is Cherokee Purple, said to have come from plants grown by the Cherokee people. I find most heritage tomatoes much tastier than modern commercial tomatoes, so grow some yourself next year along with some tomatillos and of course hot peppers (also Indigenous domestication) to taste what meals might have been like in a Cherokee village or Aztec city before Europeans.
Cherokee Purple from my wall

My goodness - out of time and I haven't even gotten to my other two wall plants - nasturtiums and passionflowers. Maybe next time? Or watch for the talk recording...

the wall in July - it reached 15 feet/5 meters by October

Clement Kent

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Finding the Mother Tree - the connectedness of nature.

Review: Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard 
 by Clement Kent 

Debuting in fourth place on the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover non-fiction is not bad at all for a book on fungi and trees. Keeping me reading avidly throughout three hundred pages is pretty good. But changing the present and future course of how we plant, care for, and harvest trees will be the best impact of all for this book by UBC forest scientist Suzanne Simard. 

Suzanne Simard, from Radio Canada

I knew enough about Simard to buy two copies (from Indigo or your local independent bookstore), one for keeping and the other for circulating among friends. Although I normally relax by reading fiction, this was my sole reading material until I finished it. Simard’s storytelling mixes her life growing up in the mountains of British Columbia with the developing story of her scientific discoveries about how forest trees share support, warnings, and other messages with their neighbours via the underground network of fungi that go from the roots of one tree to the roots of the next. When she first proved that birch and fir in the BC forest can send carbon (as photosynthetically manufactured sugars) through fungi to each other in the most prestigious science journal in the world, the editors of Nature featured her paper on the cover and coined the phrase “the Wood Wide Web” to describe it. 

But the profound impacts of Simard and others’ work describing mutualistic relationships in the forest isn’t what will keep most readers going. Simard has written a very readable autobiography. Her family roots in the BC mountains as loggers and ranchers are lovingly described. Some of the climactic moments occur when her brother competes at rodeos. Family photos going back a century show what logging in BC used to look like, and Simard’s personal experience of how forests her own family had logged regenerated helped inspire her scientific questions. Going from early childhood (the scene in which the family dogs falls into the outhouse pit is a classic!) to young adulthood, motherhood, family crises and her life-threatening struggle with breast cancer and her mature life goals, the development of Suzanne Simard as a person, as a young woman fighting the scientific and forest business establishment, and finally as a central figure of modern forest science will engage you fully. 

To finish this review, I can’t do better than let Simard’s words from the last page of Finding the Mother Tree inspire you: 

We have the power to shift course. It’s our disconnectedness – and lost understanding about the amazing capacities of nature – that’s driving a lot of our despair, and plants in particular are objects of our abuse. By understanding their sentient qualities, our empathy and love for trees, plants, and forests will naturally deepen and find innovative solutions. Turning to the intelligence of nature itself is the key. 

It's up to each and every one of us, Connect with plants you can call your own. If you’re in a city, set a pot on your balcony. If you have a yard, start a garden or join a community plot. Here’s a simple and profound action you can take right now: Go find a tree – your tree. Imagine linking into her network, connecting to other trees nearby. Open your senses. 


Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard. Allen Lane publishing, May 21 2021.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Fake Honey: two generations of learned beekeepers strike back

 Last year I was at Apimondia in Montréal, a big international convention of beekeepers, bee researchers, and suppliers of beekeeping and honey making equipment. One of the big events at Apimondia is the judging of honeys submitted from around the world. I walked by the exhibit area before the judging:

failed tests at Apimondia 2019

I was flabbergasted to see so many spots on the display shelves occupied not by jars of honey but by failure notices:

OK, what does "this exhibit has failed laboratory examination" mean? Well, it could be incompetence pure and simple - for instance, gathering honey from your hives before it has lost enough water will make it thin and more likely to spoil.

But in some cases it may mean that the honey was adulterated, diluted with corn syrup, full of banned chemicals like antibiotics or pesticides, etc. I was really shocked that so many honey producers would pay big bucks to ship their honey to Montréal, pay to enter it in the judging, and have it fail testing.

blackberry honey from BC
I was reminded of this on the solstice yesterday as I put the last of a jar of British Columbia blackberry blossom honey on a toasted slice of our homemade bread. This stuff I knew was the real deal, not the least because of the atomic "Bruker" symbol on the label.

Atomic? Honey? Yes, this honey was tested on a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) machine by TrueHoneyBuzz, a B.C. company started by two generations of learned beekeepers and businesspeople, Jerry Awram Ph.D and his son Peter Awram Ph.D.

The NMR machine is made by Bruker Scientific Instruments, and in spite of the alarming orbiting particles in the logo, it does not use any harmful radiation. In fact, one type of NMR machine is the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines used in hospitals.

NMR uses something akin to a very low power microwave to stimulate molecules in the sample, which reveal themselves in peaks in the readout as the frequency is changed - just like turning the dial on an old-fashioned radio detects peaks at different frequencies - those are the radio stations. 

Each kind of molecule has its own peaks, so the chemical composition of the sample can be found. Now, since a large proportion of "honey" in stores (up to 76% in the US , up to 20% of "pure" Australian honeys, and up to 50% of honeys imported from Asia) are in fact faked in various ways, North American beekeepers and honey packagers have been looking at cleverer and cleverer ways of detecting fakes.

Jerry Awram, Ph.D.

Peter Awram, Ph.D.
This brings us back to the Awram family. Jerry Awram got his doctorate in the 1970s studying bumblebees. He went on to run a large family beekeeping business in Alberta.

At the time, honeybees on the prairie were killed off in the fall and beeks (short for beekeepers) started of from scratch each spring with bees imported from the U.S. or elsewhere.

Jerry moved the family business to Chilliwack BC where in the Fraser river valley, the bees can fly all through the mild winter. Some of these hives go back to Alberta in spring to harvest the canola blossom crop.

Peter Awram got his Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia in microbiology, where he still does research as a member of the BeeHIVE Research Cluster. But he and his father have pioneered the use of NMR in Canada for honey testing. I got my very nice blackberry honey sample from their booth at Apimondia, where they had posters explaining their method, and the results of some internet detective work they'd done on providers of fake honey ingredients in China.

Want to learn how to make fake honey? Just go to youtube, as their poster showed:

part of TrueHoneyBuzz poster at Apimondia 2019

They point out that you can order fake honey ingredients from large producers in China on an ascending cost scale. The fakes that can pass chemical tests are more expensive than the corn syrup with rice flour added. 

If you want to find out more about fake honey and the Awram's way of detecting it, you can try the CBC piece whose headliner writer had a little fun: A B.C. solution to taking the sting out of honey fraud


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Pawpaws, flies, and Jurassic pollinators

Pawpaw flower with many flies, C. Kent CC-by-SA 3.0

Last time I blogged about a non-traditional pollinator, beetles. Today it's the turn of another unusual plant, the Pawpaw, which is pollinated by flies, beetles, and scorpionflies.  The picture above is from my garden today. I was out with an artist's paintbrush transferring pollen between pawpaw flowers on two trees, when for the first time I noticed swarms of small flies in and on the flowers. Some are probably fruit flies, but there are some larger flies too.

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a native Carolinian Canada tree with delicious fruit. Pawpaw leaves are the food for Zebra Swallowtail caterpillars; I blogged about this recently here and here. Like the topic of yesterday's blog, the Spicebush Calycanthus, pawpaws are part of the magnoliid group - relatives of magnolias. Pawpaws are the only northern member of the custard apple or soursop family, Annonaceae. Most family members are from the tropics. They include beloved fruits such as custard apple, soursop, cherimoya, sweetsop, ilama, soncoya, atemoya, and biriba, as well as sweetly scented flowers such as ylang-ylang that are used in perfumes.

bank of Potomac river, Selden Island, Maryland
Like other magnoliids, Pawpaws have non-traditional pollinators. The mature flowers have a slightly sweetish decaying fruit smell and attract flies, as seen above. But there's a fascinating extra group of pawpaw pollinators, the scorpionflies (Mecoptera). Both pawpaws and scorpionflies like moist areas, which is where I found them together in May 2013 on the banks of the Potomac river near Ashburn, Va. Large stands of pawpaws were growing and blooming near the riverbank. I tipped one flower to the side and here's what I saw:
Pawpaw and scorpionfly, head in, feeding.

Whose were those striped wings and odd abdomen? Later I found one resting inside the flower:
Scorpionfly (Panorpa) in pawpaw flower
Although if may look a bit like a moth, the pollinator is actually a scorpionfly. This ancient insect group predates flies and butterflies. Here's a fossil scorpionfly from the Jurassic period - yes the time of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park!
fossil scorpionfly Jurassipanorpa sticta from China - He Ding et al 2014

One of the more interesting and somewhat controversial theories in pollination science is that ancient scorpionflies were in fact the original pollinators of Jurassic flowering plants. The scientists focused on the long, beak-like proboscis or feeding tube of the scorpionflies, which you can see in the picture I took in Virginia:
Scorpionfly with long proboscis.

There is an excellent summary of this work on the Smithsonian website.

Present day scorpionflies not only visit pawpaws and other fly-pollinated flowers, they are also major scavengers of dead insects and other carrion. These harmless (they don't bite!), ancient pollinators are fun if you can find them. I'd suggest looking in the woods near the streams and ponds of High Park or near the Humber river if you are in western Toronto, or similar stream-side habitats wherever you live.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Carolina Allspice and Sap Beetles

Carolina Allspice, Calycanthus floridus
When I think about pollinators, beetles are not the first ones to come to mind, even though they contribute a useful B to BBBBB - Bees, Birds, Bats, Butterflies, and Beetles. But the lovely Carolina Allspice is pollinated by small, completely inconspicuous Sap Beetles.

Allspice (a.k.a. Sweetshrub or Spice Bush) is native to the U.S. east coast. Depending on who you read, it is native as far north as Virginia, or New York. The New York Flora Atlas says it is not native, but has been naturalized in Seneca County (in the Finger Lakes region) for over 50 years where it grows in the forest substory.

Allspice is a medium to large shrub which can grow from full sun to part shade. In Toronto it blooms in June. The deep purple flowers are fragrant, but quite closed up. It's thought that the fragrance imitates some of the smells of sap runs, to which the sap beetle is attracted. Beetles become trapped inside, dusted with pollen, and go on to pollinate another flower when they get out.

Allspice is part of a large group of species related to the magnolias, known as the magnoliids, which includes magnolias, nutmeg, bay laurel, cinnamon, avocado, black pepper, tulip tree and many others. Note how many of these we use as spices? Beetle-attracting fragrance is a feature of many magnolliids, which evolved about 145 million years ago. Bees didn't arrive on the scene until about 100 million years ago, so many magnoliids used beetles which had already been around for a long time. For example, beetles, thrips and flies are nutmeg pollinators.

Allspice's alternate name, spice bush, is shared with another native plant, Lindera benzoin. Both have aromatic bark and were used in indigenous medicine and cooking. Read more about Lindera in my blog about native swallowtail plants.  Lindera is in the same family as Allspice, so confusing the two is not uncommon. We've planted both kinds of spicebush in Kathy's Grove, our native plant pollinator garden in downtown Toronto.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Project Swallowtail Plant List - Key plants for Swallowtail Butterflies

This is the first of several pages that will list native plants we are using to support native pollinators in Project Swallowtail. This page highlights species we're using to support native Swallowtail butterflies. Other pages will give more complete list of trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses beneficial to different birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

But first, let me direct you to a previous post on just this subject: Hops and Spice, Pipes and Paws - How Large a Tale will you Swallow? That post has fun with some of the history around these plants, animals, and human customs.

Our plant list for swallowtails:

  • Hoptree
  • Pipevine
  • Pawpaw
  • Spicebush
  • Sweet crabapple
  • Tuliptree
  • Black cherry
  • Pussy willow
  • Aniseroot
  • Golden Alexanders
  • Great Angelica
  • Anise, caraway, coriander, dill, fennel, lovage, and parsley

Details - see below!

Giant Swallowtail
Giant Swallowtail, Gordon Roberton CCbySA3.0

There are only two Ontario native plants Giant Swallowtail caterpillars will eat, and one of them, Prickly Ash, is a monster in the garden. Don't go there, unless you have a big property, and you want to be able to say, as Sean James does, "kiss my Prickly Ash" to annoying visitors.

Instead, we're planting Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata). This shrub to short tree (up to 6m tall but can be pruned much shorter; 2-3 m along the shores of Lake Erie) thrives in the sandy soils found in our area, and is not too particular about light or moisture. 

Ptelea trifoliata 'Aurea' ; photo Karl Gercen
We'll be using plants grown from local seed, but if you are into foliage colors you can consider the variety "Aurea" which won a RHS Award of Garden Merit for its pale spring leaves.

I wrote about hoptrees and giants in this post which you can peek at for more details, including how to grow your own from seed.

Be sure to look online for images of Giant Swallowtail caterpillars so you can recognize them when a female has found your bush! 

Pipevine swallowtail, ©Troy Bartlett

Pipevine Swallowtail

Here's another butterfly with only a single native host, the pipevine Aristolochia macrophylla. This Appalachian species is at the northern limit of its natural range with us, although it was in much demand a century ago as a way of shading porches. The pipevines are a large family in the tropics, and they all share compounds in their leaves which are very bitter if eaten. Like the monarch does with milkweed, Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars store up these bitter compounds so that the adults are very nasty tasting for birds.

Pipevine can be a vigorous grower where it is happy. A fence is an ideal spot for it, like the big spread of it on Ward's Island near the Island Cafe, which used to harbour many of these butterflies. Most soils are OK, but the vine doesn't like to be too dry. I've seen it growing well in half shade.

Zebra Swallowtail

The only local host for the elegant Zebra swallowtail is the pawpaw tree, whose very tasty fruit is a fine
reward for pollinator gardeners in the fall.

It takes two different pawpaws to cross-pollinate and set fruit, and being a small tree they may take five years after planting to reach blooming size. But after just a few years zebra swallowtails can lay eggs on the leaves - they don't care about the fruit.

In nature, pawpaws are often found in moist soil near streams or rivers, and can tolerate partial shade. Once they reach blooming size, they send up new stalks from suckers. I trim mine off once a year, a 10 minute task.

My two pawpaws were grown from pawpaw fruit from the Niagara area, sold by a farmer in the Dufferin Grove Organic Market. I know of at least two other properties in our area with large, well-yielding pawpaws.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush swallowtail
Compare the blue hind wings of the Spicebush and Pipevine swallowtails. They are part of what biologists call a mimicry complex. Lindera benzoin - Spicebush - is the favored host plant for Spicebush caterpillars, and also for the Promethea moth. The Tiger Swallowtail and the Imperial moth also feed on the leaves.

Spicebush has small but fragrant yellowish flowers in spring and red fruit in fall, although there are separate male and female plants, so you need one of each within a few back yards of each other to get fruit. Fruit, leaves, and stems are aromatic and have been used in teas and other recipes.

Spicebush blooms more in the sun but tolerates shade very well. My bush is planted north of an old pear tree where it gets several hours of afternoon sun.

These swallowtail caterpillars can also feed on Tuliptree leaves - see the Tiger Swallowtail, below.

Male spicebush flowers - public domain
Imperial Moth, Joel Mills, CCbySA 3.0

Tiger Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Derek Ramsey CC by SA 3.0

As a child I didn't know that "Tigers" could be one of several very closely related species. The USA tiger's caterpillars feed on Tulip Trees and a fair number of other trees, the Canadian tiger replaces tuliptrees with poplars, and there is a hybrid species left over from the ice ages in the Appalachian mountains. 

To add more to the confusion, the females can either be traditionally tiger-colored or have a black form which looks a great deal like the Black Swallowtail (below).

There are about 7 or 8 host plants for the Tigers, but the ones we are featuring in Project Swallowtail have benefits for other pollinators too. These are the Tulip Tree, Black Cherry, Sweet crabapple, Pussy Willow, and our friend the Hoptree (above).

crabapple, Per Palmkvist Knudsen,

Sweet crabapple

Malus coronaria is native to our region and an excellent small garden tree, for pollinators in spring, caterpillars in summer, and birds in fall. Full sun produces the greatest bloom and fruit set. Jam is delicious!

Tulip tree, Clement Kent CC by SA 3.0

Tulip Tree

Liriodendron tulipifera is a native giant magnolia - up to 50m/160ft in the south. An excellent shade tree, we planted it in Kathy's Garden to give shade and beauty to seven future generations, as the ash and beech and Austrian pine trees around it die over the next few years. It's valued for its wood.

Honeybees love tuliptrees in bloom, and make a flavour-rich dark honey from it. A friend gave me a jar of it from a grove in Ohio, which I save for special occasions.

Tuliptree Silkmoth, Thomas Barnes Public Domain
Tuliptrees are native to Carolinian Canada, but used to be rare in Toronto. A friend now grows them as far north as Creemore. The City of Toronto has added them to the list of trees the city will plant for free in your front yard if you ask. Several in the Dufferin Grove neighbourhood have now reached 3 stories tall - this tree can grow several feet per year when young!

 It hosts "only" 28 species of native moths, including the giant Tuliptree Silkmoth, and of course the tiger swallowtail.

Black Cherry

Prunus serotina is like sweet crabapple - flowers in spring, leaves in summer, and fruit in fall for birds. It's like tuliptree as it is a large tree with valuable lumber which can live hundreds of years. 

I had a property on the shore of Lake Huron with one enormous Black Cherry and several of its children. The big tree had been struck lightning but survived. Just down the hill to the lake grew Alternate-leaved Dogwood, whose blue or purple berries ripened just after the cherries. We had torrents of birds for those weeks!

Emperor moth. Jena-Phillippe Harmon, CCbySA 3.0
Talk about beauty: Coral Hairstreak, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-Spotted Purple, Spring Azure and Viceroy butterfly and Io, Cecropia, Promethea, and Emperor moth caterpillars feed on the leaves - it's one of the top trees in ecologist Douglas Tallamy's list of best trees for wildlife.

Pussy Willow

Pussy willow - Silk666, CCbySA 3.0
The native willow Salix discolor is a champion at supporting pollinators, and children! A few stems of "pussies" is one of the finest signs of spring. Keep them in water for a few weeks and you'll find roots on the lower stems. Plant them out in a sunny, moist spot and in just a few years you'll have pussies of your own to give away.

I watch my cut stems carefully. Pussy willows have male and female plants. If the soft white of the buds is replaced by golden pollen-bearing stamens, you have a branch from a male tree. The early spring pollen is incredibly valuable to early spring bees, including honeybees and bumblebees.

And the butterflies and moths! Another Tallamy favorite, pussy willow supports Acadian hairstreak, black-waved flannel moth, cecropia moth, Compton's tortoiseshell, cynthia moth, dreamy duskywing, eastern tiger swallowtail, elm sphinx, imperial moth, Io moth, modest sphinx, mourning cloak, polyphemus moth, promethea moth, red-spotted purple, small-eyed sphinx, twin-spotted sphinx, and viceroy. In fact, a small grove of willows is one of the best ways to guarantee seeing mourning cloak butterflies on mild days in late fall and early spring. 

OK, enough about Tigers and their hosts. One more swallowtail to go:

female black swallowtail, Kenneth Dwain Harrison CC by SA 3.0

Black Swallowtail

The black swallowtail Papilio polyxenes is probably our most common swallowtail. Males and females are both black but differ in the amount of blue (mimicking the pipevine swallowtail).

male black swallowtail, D. Gordon Robertson CC by SA 3.0
Males defend mating territories fiercely, and if you visit a hilltop in High Park in summer you may see an aerial battle between two males. 

Females search for plants from the carrot/Queen Anne's lace family to lay their eggs. Given the abundance of the invasive but well established Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot), they don't have to look far.

If you want some native plants to feed black swallowtail caterpillars and provide blooms for other pollinators, I recommend three. 

The dappled-shade adapted Aniseroot sweet cicely (Osmorhiza longistylis) has anise-scented and flavoured leaves and springtime white flowers. 

Golden Alexanders
Derek Ramsey CCbySA 3.0

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) has beautiful yellow clusters in May or June; it dies back if the soil gets dry. In addition to the black swallowtails, the solitary mining bee Andrena ziziae feeds its young only the pollen of Golden Alexanders. I have it in a spot with half a day's sun.

Great Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) is a native perennial we should know better. Its sweet stems and roots were used for making candy, and Indigenous peoples have a number of medicinal uses for it. With golden blooms on purple stems three to six feet tall, it is a major plant in the water or rain garden. It needs moist soil and a reasonable amount of sun. Hordes of smaller pollinators will be attracted to the blooms.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar
@401rooftopgarden  - CC by SA 3.0
And then, there are all the non-native but delicious herbs that will feed black swallowtail caterpillars. Anise, caraway, coriander, dill, fennel, lovage, and parsley are some of the more common ones. On the rooftop garden of 401 Richmond in downtown Toronto, gardener Saskia Vegter found caterpillars last year, showing that apartment dwellers can attract this butterfly.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Balcony Herbs for You and for the Pollinators

Many of us live in apartments, without a plot of earth for a garden. If you want to treat yourself and pollinators well, what should you grow in pots or planters?

My answer is Herbs. They'll be great for you in the pot, pan, or salad, and if you manage them right, full of flowers for pollinators. Further, many herbs are very tolerant of the wind and drying conditions of an upper-floor balcony, so they'll be easier for you to grow than other flowering plants.

Basil flowers - by Natalie Ward
Basil is one of my favorites. Even though I have a back yard, it's too shady these days for basil to get the full heat and sun it needs. So, I grow it in pots on the deck.

Carpenter Bee on Basil - Gideon Pisanty,
 CC by SA 3.0
Many people trim off the basil flower spikes, because it prolongs the growth of the leaves. But the flowers are excellent in salad, and very
attractive to pollinators.

If you have a big pot, I'd recommend a mix of sweet basil, lemon basil, Thai basil, and holy basil. Put it next to your patio tomatoes to remind you to use the leaves with tomato dishes!

Thyme in a pot - Greenmars, CCbySA 3.0

I never have enough Thyme!  It's highly tolerant of drying and heat. Many varieties are winter hardy. You can find half a dozen different flavors and forms, with flowers ranging from pink to pale purple to white. As with basil, if you have a long window box, try mixing several varieties together. The flowers are edible but strong tasting, so best in soups and stews.

I hope I don't need to remind you not to use pesticides on your herbs???

Coriander/Cilantro - H. Zell, CC by SA 3.0
 A fantastic group of herbs to grow from seed in pots are the carrot family herbs dill, fennel, and coriander (Coriandrum sativum). They grow easily from early spring sown seed, but they need a but more watering than thyme does. Flowers, of course, are their way of making the yummy seeds, so do double duty on your balcony. However, these annual plants die back after the seeds ripen, so plant several waves of them spaced about two weeks apart for whole season enjoyment.

Dill in full bloom - Clement Kent, CC by SA 3.0
If you use the leaves (coriander leaves = cilantro), you can pinch one of these plants several times to get it to grow more bushy. Then when you stop pinching, you'll get an explosion of flowers.

 In summer heat, the leaves can be all too fleeting. Of course, you can dry them, but my in-laws used to freeze dill  (Anethum graveolens) just after picking, to have fresh green sprigs on potatoes or fish - an Estonian favorite!

Fennel -  Köhler's Medicinal Plants (1887)

"Above the lower plants it towers,
The Fennel with its yellow flowers;
And in an earlier age than ours
Was gifted with the wondrous powers
Lost vision to restore." - Longfellow, The Goblet of Life, 1842

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is biennial, so it doesn't bloom until the second year. In the ground it is quite hardy but in you may need to wrap the pots to bring it through our winters. Remember, Longfellow warned you it will grow tall! Bronze Fennel is an attractive variety.

A bed of Chives in June - Clement Kent, CC by SA 3.0

Bumblebees like Chives

Garlic Chives - Clement Kent, CC by SA 3.0
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) make a good pot plant, although I find if not watered enough they get rather bitter. For the purple species, blooming is in early summer. Remove the flowers when they fade for a smaller bloom later in the summer.

Chive flowers are longish, favoring bumblebees.

At my friend Jon's cabin near northern Georgian Bay, chives have naturalized on the granite rocks where they grow in a very, very thin layer of gravel. They also grew on nearly bare granite at my parents' cabin near Thunder Bay. So I can say with complete confidence that they will be hardy in your pot on the balcony.

"He who bears chives on his breathe,
Is safe from being kissed to death."
Marcus Valerius Martialis, 80 A.D.

Martial's epigram is even more true for Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum), whose leaves have the added flavor and scent of garlic. I used to grow these under the kitchen window for a milder addition to salads than a crushed garlic cloves, but they seeded so abundantly I had to exile them to the back of the yard. Flowers arrive in late summer, and are attractive to pollinators, but too strong-tasting to me to use in the kitchen.

Spanish Tarragon - George Hull, CC by SA 2.5
Did you know that there are many species of marigolds in Mexico? Tagetes lucida is also known as
Spanish Tarragon. It's completely unrelated to French Tarragon, which tends not to thrive on balconies. But the Spanish Tarragon marigold is happy in sun and baking heat. The leaves are good in many of the same recipes where you'd use a regular tarragon. And, in late summer/early fall, you get many small yellow flowers for the bees.

Wow - so many more herbs to go! For sunny planters I'd also recommend marjoram and oregano, both great bloomers and worthy in the pot or on the pizza. But let's turn to those of us whose site faces north, or an adjoining building.

Make mine Mint! There are many species of mint (Mentha) and most of them will tolerate some shade. They are better in pots than in the soil, because they tend to runner about and take over the garden if you let them. They are of course an essential of herbal and Mediterranean teas, and of many kinds of cooking recipes. There is spearmint, peppermint, lemon mint, chocolate mint...the list goes on.

I've put multiple mints in one pot, and this works fine for the first year. But by the second and later years one has driven the others extinct.

Flowering happens frequently, and I like to add the flower spikes to fresh mint-water for summer hot days. But, please pick them off when they are done, or your plants will tend to get woody and leggy.

There are many other herbs, of course - every culture around the world has its favorites. Try some that bloom well on your balcony, and share your herbs with the pollinators!