The Bloedel Conservatory Joins the Pollinator Project!


Mason bee (Osmia cornifrons). Photo by Beatriz Moisset, Creative Commons

With Spring in full swing and lots of blossoms at the Bloedel Conservatory, it is a perfect time to introduce Mason Bees into the lush iconic dome. Mason Bees are an early Spring pollinator. Unlike Honey Bees that live and work in a community, Mason Bees are solitary. Because there is no Queen bee, they do not sting. This makes the Mason Bee ideal for public places where visitors of every age can be in close proximity to observe their work.

Mason Bees are considered superior pollinators (especially for fruit trees), true “work horses” of the garden. They are a fast bee, visiting approximately 17 blossoms per minute. In fact 1 mason bee pollinates as many flowers as 100 honey bees! This is encouraging many people to introduce these bees to their own gardens by providing man-made nesting sites like the one seen below.

mason bee house bloedel

Mason bee house mounted on a Butterfly Palm at the Bloedel Conservatory. Photo by Vicky Earle

Mason Bees emerge from their cocoons in the spring. The male bees are the first to come out of the nest. They remain near the nest waiting for the females. When the females emerge, they mate, then the females begin provisioning their nests. Every female bee is fertile. In nature, she makes nests in long cylindrical holes about the size of a pencil – typically in hollow twigs or abandoned nests of wood-boring beetles or carpenter bees.

Females visit flowers to gather pollen and nectar.  A mother bee then lays a single egg in a nesting tunnel and deposits a ball of gathered pollen and nectar for food when that egg hatches. Next, she builds a wall from mud or clay to close that chamber before laying the next egg and depositing the next food ball. Building these walls are how Mason Bees got their name!


Mason bee nest cell with cocoons. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Amazingly, the mother bee can control the DNA to produce approximately 50% males and 50% females. Once a bee has finished with a nest, she plugs the entrance to the tube, and then may seek out another nest location. Each female can lay approximately 25 eggs. By the end of June, the nesting period is over. By late October or early November, the lavae pupate and spin silken cocoons within the nest chamber where they will lie dormant over the winter months.

Pollinators have declined in many areas but the exact causes are not known. Factors include habitat changes from growing cities, spread of disease (mites and viruses), and pesticide use.

The Pollinator Project, started in Vancouver in April of 2014, by the Parks Board and City Council, aims to make Vancouver parks and gardens friendlier to all bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Staff began work with stewardship groups and community gardeners to raise public awareness about the value of pollinators, to facilitate habitat enhancement projects, and to assess and monitor pollinator populations. Staff also collaborated with the Environmental Youth Alliance and Hives for Humanity to help promote pollinators across the city. For more information, visit the Pollinator Project at:

When sourcing out pollinator friendly plants for your own garden, please avoid plants and seeds sprayed with nicotine-based insecticides (neonicotinoids). These will kill the beneficial bees and butterfly pollinators along with unwanted pests. Man-made mason bee nests, cocoons and supplies can be found at many local garden and wild bird stores in the Vancouver area.


Bloedel Conservatory Update: Big Things are Underway!

DOME scaffolding copy

Scaffolding in place for roof replacement project at the Bloedel Conservatory

The Bloedel Conservatory Roof Replacement Project is now underway!

This large and unique project will take place in a series Phases, with Phase I scheduled for completion this Spring. Currently, the scaffolding is up and the large cross beam has been lowered into place over the top of the dome. There are a total of 1,490 ‘bubbles’ that make up the dome in 32 different sizes: 12 panels will be replaced everyday, one at a time, for a total of 400 panels in this first phase. A clear covering will be placed over the scaffolding on the outside with a fine nylon netting placed inside to keep the visitors, birds and plants safe during the process. The Bloedel Conservatory will remain open 7 days a week during regular hours. Phase I includes replacing the fan and ventilation system, the centre dome panels and the roof section over the building entrance. See a diagram of the scaffolding plan and more project details here:

Fundraiser to Support the Bloedel Conservatory


Wednesday, February 5, 2014 | 7:30 p.m.  Tickets: VBGA Members $20 | Non-members $25

Join costume historian Ivan Sayers for “Fine Feathers Make Fine Birds”, for an entertaining evening on the use of feathers in twentieth-century fashion. Mr. Sayers will show examples and regale the audience with his vast and knowledgeable stories on the topic. This lecture will be held in the Great Hall at VanDusen Visitor Centre, VanDusen Botanical Garden, 5151 Oak Street. Parking is free. Purchase tickets by phone: 604-257-8190 or in person at the VanDusen Admission Desk during Garden hours.  

Rediscover Bloedel with Monthly Family Programs

Come in and rediscover Bloedel with our new Family Programs, for children ages 5–11 years of age.  Programs run during February and March. Learn something new while staying warm during these winter months in our little corner of tropical paradise! Groups will meet inside the Conservatory. An adult must accompany the child(ren) for the entire program. All programs are fun for the whole family. Mark your calendars!

Taste of the Tropics – Sunday, February 9

banana blossomDrop-in 10:30 am – 4:30 pm (FREE with Conservatory Admission)

Tropical rainforests are home to many plants that we use in our daily lives. Visit our ‘incredible edibles’ station and learn more about the orchid that vanilla flavouring comes from, the coffee tree, plantains and many more tasty tropical treats. Test your knowledge with our mouth-watering match up game and search the beautiful Bloedel Conservatory for these plants.

Flit Flutter and Fly: Get to Know the Birds of Bloedel – Monday, February 10

orange headed gouldianDrop-in 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (FREE with Conservatory Admission)

Explore Bloedel Conservatory with a watchful eye on the birds that flit, flutter and fly in this rainforest oasis. Visit the “bird brain” station to receive a series of clues to help you find some specific feathered friends while touring the site. You will receive a bird stamp as a reward for completing the challenge and get a chance to eat like a bird with a variety of bird beak props.

Life in a Bromeliad: Build a mini rainforest – Sunday, March 16

bromeliad_costa rica10:30 a.m. – noon OR 1:30-3 p.m. Registration required.

Take a tour of the Conservatory and uncover the interesting and amazing world of epiphytes and bromeliads. We will investigate the creatures that depend on these plants and use a microscope to peer into the mini ecosystem that thrives within a bromeliad. You’ll also be creating a take-home mini rainforest terrarium with an air plant!

To register: Call 604-718-5898  Tues – Fri, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. or email:

Family Day Long Weekend

Along with the new programs, be sure to plan a visit for the Family Day long weekend, February 8 – 10 to meet our new Roving Docents! They have been training hard and will be on hand all weekend to share intriguing stories on the exotic plants and birds that live under the dome. They will happily point out species that are easy to miss and answer any questions you may have.

Walk in the Tropics

Growing Rainforest Plants at Home – February 23, 2014, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

bromeliadsDid you know that you can grow many of the plants found at the Bloedel Conservatory right in your own home if you give them the proper care and conditions?

Join instructor Egan Davis on a walk through the conservatory focusing on these plants and the techniques to grow them. He will also share stories about their native rainforest habitat, pollinators and more. VBGA member price $10 / Non-member price $15. Registration is a must: Call 604-718-5898 or visit: to download a registration form.

There are big projects, programs and events underway at the Bloedel Conservatory throughout February and March!

Be sure to support our green jewel and take part in the fun of Rediscovering Bloedel!

A World of Feathers


Ildiko Szabo, Assistant Curator of the Cowan Tetrapod Collection at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, is passionate about birds. We welcomed her to the Bloedel Conservatory as a special guest speaker for a Walk in the Tropics talk titled “A World of Feathers”.

blue macaw feathers_250

“Feathers are actually quite simple in structure: there is a centre strengthening shaft and on either side are the vanes or the feathery bits. When we look at the shape of the feather – one side versus the other – the ratio of width and narrowing, we can tell where on the bird it came from”. Primary, secondary and tertiary feathers were explained as well as growing and molting patterns in different types of birds.


Casey, the Amazon parrot

Ms. Szabo continued the fascinating discussion with coloration. The colours in feathers are formed in two different ways – either from pigments or from light refraction caused by the structure of the feather. In some cases feather colors are the result of a combination of pigment and structural colors. For example, the greens of some parrots are created by yellow pigments overlaying a blue-reflecting characteristic of the feathers, as can be seen on Casey the Amazon parrot pictured above. Pigment in birds comes from three different groups: melanins, carotenoids, and porphyrines.

Melanins occur in both the skin and feathers of birds and can produce colors ranging from the darkest black to reddish browns and pale yellows. What’s really interesting is that feathers containing melanin are stronger and more resistant to wear and tear than feathers without it. White feathers – those without any pigmentation at all – are the weakest. Many otherwise all white birds have black feathers on their wings or black wingtips. The melanin that causes the tips to appear black also provides extra strength. For example, the Pied Imperial or Torres Straight Pigeons, are powerful and agile flyers crossing large bodies of water between coastal islands, so very strong feathers are needed.

pidgeon sm

Pied Imperial Pigeon

Carotenoids are responsible for the bright yellows while porphyrins produce a range of colors, including pink, browns, reds, and greens. Porphyrins are found in some owls, pigeons and pheasants. They can also produce the brilliant greens and reds of touracos, like the one pictured below. Blue feathers, on the other hand, are almost always created by the structure of the feather rather than pigment. Tiny air pockets in the barbs of feathers can scatter incoming light, resulting in a specific, non-iridescent color.

touraco on ground_sm2

Guinea touraco

Special thanks again goes out to Ms. Szabo for an insightful and fascinating talk! The Beaty Biodiversity Museum is located at 2212 Main Mall, south of University Boulevard on the UBC Point Grey campus and is Vancouver’s natural history museum.

Don’t miss the last Walk of the year! Be sure to mark your calendars for Sunday, November 17th at 11am for the next inspiring Walk in the Tropics “Since the Beginning of Bloedel”. Join Park Board Commissioner John Coupar on a historical tour of the Bloedel Conservatory. As the son of Bloedel’s first Garden Director, Charles Coupar, John will share stories and little known facts about the people, the mission, architecture, construction and development of Bloedel since it was built in 1969. Registration is a must! Visit for more information.

Bloedel Conservatory under construction.

Bloedel Conservatory under construction in 1969.

Orchids and More in May!

orchid spotted_sm

Looking for somewhere fun and relaxing to take Mom on Mother’s Day? May is all about orchids at the Bloedel Conservatory! There are exquisite orchids on display right now: gorgeous phalaenopsis (moth orchids) and cymbidiums (boat orchids), as well as the more unique lady slipper, spider and oncidiums (dancing lady orchids). Always a treat to see and sure to delight Mom! The Conservatory is now open until 8pm everyday throughout the summer – perfect after a stroll in Queen Elizabeth Park or dinner at Season’s Restaurant. And it gives you even more time to treat Mom on her special day!


As you wander through the tropical atmosphere finding all of the orchid treasures, be sure to stop and say ‘Hello’ to Malibu, the new Sulphur-crested Cockatoo! She will likely give you a loud ‘Hello’ right back and maybe show you some of her best dance moves! Malibu is quite a character and a welcome addition to the Conservatory. She and over 100 free flying exotic birds are sure to bring smiles to the whole family!

Lady Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedlium).

Also in May, come in for the next Walk in the Tropics talk. If you love orchids, don’t miss: Orchids Throughout the World, taking place on Wednesday, May 22 at 6:30. With over 30,000 species, orchids are the largest plant family in the world! Join Margaret Pratt, President of the Vancouver Orchid Society, in a discussion about these fascinating plants and their unique adaptations for tropical climates. You may just find out why many people develop serious ‘orchid addictions’. Registration is a must! For more information click here.


And excitement for orchids does not stop there! The Rare and Exotic Orchid Show begins Friday, May 24th at 10am through Sunday, May 26th. This special event is a joint partnership with the Vancouver Orchid Society and is free with admission.  A must see for orchid aficionados! Members of the VOS grace the Conservatory with exquisite orchids from their own private collections and are on hand to answer all of your orchid questions. Don’t forget your camera! There will be a multitude of rare and unusual beauties for that picture perfect shot! May is all about orchids and more!

Save the dates and see you there!

A Walk in the Tropics is back at Bloedel!

The tremendously popular Walk in the Tropics series is back at the Bloedel Conservatory! Come out and join expert speakers as they discuss a variety of topics while strolling through the lush tropical atmosphere under the dome atop Queen Elizabeth park. It’s like a mini vacation with an educational twist!

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The first walk this season, ‘The Birds of Bloedel’, takes place on Wednesday, April 24th at 3:30. Education Director Janice Robson from the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary will share intriguing facts about each species at the Conservatory – from the large exotic Macaws and parrots to the small finches and budgies. Janice will also discuss the care required, diet considerations and tips for keeping your own feathered companions healthy and happy.

Cost to attend each walk is $10 for VanDusen members and $15 for non-members, which includes admission to the Conservatory. Pre-registration is a must! Register online, by phone, in person or by fax. Visit the VanDusen Botanical Garden Adult Education Registration page for all registration information, forms and course brochure. 

Mark your calendars!  This is a terrific series that you won’t want to miss!

A Walk in the Tropics Spring/Summer Schedule

art beauty 4smThe Birds of Bloedel

Wednesday April 24
3:30 – 4:30 pm

Janice Robson will introduce you to the variety of bird species that live in the Bloedel Conservatory. She is a wealth of knowledge and will share interesting facts and stories about all the species under the dome as well as great tips for your own feathered friends.

dancing ladies croppedOrchids Throughout the World

Wednesday May 22
6:30 – 7:30 pm

What makes tropical orchids so unique from most other tropical plants? How do they differ from their orchid cousins in colder regions? Join Margaret Pratt, President of the Vancouver Orchid Society, in a discussion about epiphytism and adaptations that make certain orchids suited to tropical climes.

holey philadendron smPlant Adaptations in the Tropics

Wednesday June 19
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Adaptations are specific features that allow plants to live in a variety of conditions around the world. Join this fascinating exploration of tropical specializations including types of bark, drip tips, prop and stilt roots, buttresses, epiphytes and how certain plants ward off predators. Instructor: Janet Canning, Capilano University

fiddlehead 2x3Healing Gardens

Wednesday July 17
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Join Dr. Aimeé Taylor, Horticultural Therapist, on a walk through the Bloedel Conservatory to discuss the healing and therapeutic benefits of spending time in green spaces. Discussion will include indoor plants for your home that provide clean air along with other benefits.

clyde great_smThe Birds of Bloedel

Wednesday August 21
6:30 – 7:30 pm

Jenny Tamas, Adoptions Director from the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary, will introduce you to the variety of bird species that live in the Bloedel Conservatory. She will share interesting facts about each species, as well as the care required, diet considerations and tips for keeping your own feathered companions healthy and happy.

Cool New Things Happening at the Bloedel Conservatory!

QR Code Smart Phone Tour

Spearheaded by Friends of Bloedel President, Vicky Earle, this new Smart Phone Self-Guided Tour is a QR code based pilot project that was 2 years in the making. “We wanted a platform to share more detail about the many fascinating stories held within this wonderful tropical oasis. There is so much to discover here! We hope people will enjoy exploring the site”. Enter the Conservatory and scan the QR code located in the gift shop with any smart phone (you may need to download a free reader), then navigate by using the subject tabs to discover detailed information, pictures, videos, and audio files for each of the stations provided. Future plans are to translate the site into multiple languages to reach a wider, more diverse audience. Stop in and try it out! We would love to hear your feedback!

New Logo and Front Entrance Graphic

The Bloedel Conservatory has a new logo! Take a stroll along the front plaza on the top of QE park and you will certainly notice the new dazzling graphic and elegant logo that now graces the entrance of the Bloedel Conservatory. Garden Director Harry Jongerden enlisted the expertise of creative strategist Karen Holyk to design the logo. Ms. Holyk and colleague Daniela Pilossof, environmental designer, were then commissioned to capture the essence held within the dome and transform it into a new graphic display for the front window. Photographs for the project were donated by Vicky Earle and Irmgard Carter. Be sure to go inside for a visit and see if you can find everything in the graphic!

Preparations for the Jewel Box of Lights are Underway!

In celebration of the Bloedel Conservatory’s 43rd Anniversary, this year’s Jewel Box of Lights will officially open December 6th at 4:30. Preparations are in full swing with gardeners and arborists pulling out all the stops to make this Jewel Box a delight! Mark your calendars as this is event should not to be missed! Stay tuned for more details coming soon!

Bird of the Month

Nelson, the Hahn’s Dwarf Macaw (Ara nobilis nobilis)

Measuring in at a just 12 inches in length, the Hahn’s Dwarf Macaw is the tiniest macaw in the World! Hahn’s Macaws are also the smallest of the 3 sub-species of Red Shouldered Macaws, but they have all the attitude of their large macaw relatives. Hahn’s macaws are native to Venezuela and are primarily green with a blue crown and a dash of red on the shoulder. They live to be 30+ years of age. All macaws can be distinguished from other parrots by their relatively bare, light coloured face patch. This facial patch pattern is as unique as a fingerprint for telling individual macaws apart!

Nelson has a big personality despite his small size. If you’re patient, he may play “Peek a Boo” and ask “Can I help you?” or “What’s your problem?”  Listen carefully because he has a soft voice – you just might be lucky and catch his rendition of Madonna’s “Material Girl“! Nelson loves his toy bell and can sometimes be seen cuddling up to it for a nap. See an early morning video of Nelson waking up here.

Exercise and play are essential activities for the physical and emotional health of all parrots. All macaws, big or small, love to chew and many will chew on anything within reach. Hahn’s Dwarf Macaws are intelligent and social and are generally considered to have easy going temperaments. They can, however, become destructive if not allowed to play and exercise. This is one reason why any parrot requires a great deal more commitment than owning a dog or a cat!

Anatomy of a Feather

All birds have different types of feathers that have different purposes:

Contour feathers. These feathers are the outermost feathers that give birds their shape.

Flight feathers: These feathers are often the largest contour feathers and are located on the wings. They are divided into primary and secondary feathers, which together are called ‘remiges’. Primary feathers are the strongest flight feathers while secondary feathers provide lift when the bird soars or flaps. Shorter feathers called ‘coverts’ cover the bases of flight feathers. Tail feathers, called ‘retrices’, provide stability and control.

Down feathers. This type of feather is soft and fluffy and grows close to the skin to keep the bird warm and dry. They provide essential insulation and are located under contour feathers.

Many bird species also select their mates by the brightness and colour patterns of feathers. The health of a bird is often reflected in its feathers and some studies have indicated that birds in good health are able to produce feathers with more vivid colouration. Nelson is small, but very green. So green in fact that he is often overlooked amidst the foliage! Why not stop in at Bloedel, find Nelson and pay him a visit? See if you can notice his different types of feathers. He would love to chat and play a game of ‘Peek a Boo’!

Watch more macaw videos here:

Carmen and Maria, Green winged Macaws

Art, Gold and Blue Macaw



1. Physical Characteristics – General Avian Information (2011). The Furry Critter Network.

2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology (2011). All About Birds: Feathers and Plumages.

3. Cornell Lab of Ornithology (2011). All About Birds: Feather Structure

Aviva Competition Semi-final Round


We need your help in the Aviva Semi-final Competition!

Please VOTE today!!

With your help, ‘Of Birds and Botany’ sailed through the first round of the competition back in October. Voting for the Semi-finals is happening right now (until December 15) and we need your help again! We must place in the top 30 to move forward to the Final round.

You can help us win $25,000 for education programs at Bloedel!

Vote here:

The Aviva competition was created to help make a positive impact in Canadian communities – through providing education, youth programs, and helping the environment. If we’re successful, the VBGA will work with teachers, the Friends of the Bloedel Association, members and other community partners to design programs for kids and families in areas of ecology, conservation, botany and birds.

If you haven’t already registered, it’s quick and easy. Everyone receives 10 votes – and you can cast your vote once a day, everyday! If you voted in the last round, you are all set to go!

Simply visit

Thank you for your support!

Together we are making great things happen!

Don’t forget to join us for the

Jewel Box of Lights

Sunday December 5th, 11 am ~ 4 pm!

URGENT: We Need Your Votes!

Thanks to Gillian Drake, Director of Education at the VanDusen Botanical Garden, we have entered a community-supported competition for funding called AVIVA that will allow us to start educational programs at the Bloedel Conservatory. The VanDusen Botanical Garden Association (VBGA), was enlisted to establish an education program at Bloedel for school children and lifelong learners of all ages. Support from Aviva will allow the VBGA to initiate these education programs and offer it at free or reduced cost to those in greatest need.

Gillian has stated, “with funding from Aviva, the VBGA will work with teachers, the Friends of the Bloedel Association, members and other community partners to: • Design and conduct field trip programs for elementary school students • Offer free educational programming to students at selected inner-city schools in Vancouver • Make terrariums with students for display at their school • Design and conduct family programs on weekends • Design and conduct a diversity of workshops for teachers and the general public”. All exciting and great ways to experience our tropical oasis at the top of QE park!

After a very quick and simple registration process, you will be allocated 10 votes on the Aviva website – and you can use them all for Bloedel if you wish! One vote can be cast per day per individual. Voting ends next Friday, October 15, so please vote for us everyday! Spread this message and help us win up to $25,000 in funding!

Click on this link to get started:

For future reference our item number is #6547 called Of Birds and Botany. Remember to bookmark the page in your browser for easy access!

Thank you for your support!!