Five Stellar US Native Shrubs for Pollinators and Wildlife

Five Stellar US Native Shrubs for Pollinators and Wildlife Featured Image
These shrubs are tough, beautiful through multiple seasons, and excellent for wildlife.

Some shrubs look beautiful in their natural form. Those on this list are elegantly beautiful in the wild or a garden. They offer aesthetic value and benefit our yard’s ecosystems.

These five shrubs are givers, providing season-long beauty as well as food for multiple pollinators and wildlife at different times of the year. They’ve been selected from personal experience. I’ve observed them in the wild, in gardens, and in landscapes. There are no ornamental or environmental losers in this bunch. Plant them, and your yard will smile.

Five Beautiful Shrubs for Pollinators

1. Serviceberries

Serviceberries in a garden
Serviceberries are stately natives with year-round interest and high wildlife value.

Across North America, there are approximately 20 species serviceberry species (Amelanchier spp.). All are exceptionally beautiful, have high wildlife value, and many are in cultivation. Most grow as shrubs, but some develop into multi-stemmed small trees at maturity. Here are some better species and selections to grow.

Serviceberries spring flowers, edible summer fruits and fall leaves
Fragrant spring flowers, edible summer fruits, and glowing fall color are traits held by most serviceberries.

Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia, 4-15 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 2-8) is of special interest to bees, birds, and a couple of butterfly species. Its fragrant white spring flowers feed bees and butterflies, birds and mammals enjoy its sweet, edible, blue-black fruits, and it is the larval host to striped hairstreak and California hairstreak butterflies. In fall, the leaves turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow, and its smooth, gray bark and pleasing habit stands out in the winter landscape. The variety ‘Regent‘ is compact (4-6 feet) and bears copious flowers and delicious fruit for jam making and baking. 

Canada serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis, 15-30 feet, Zones 3-8) feeds early bees with its bright white clusters of spring flowers. Its reddish summer fruits are tasty and edible. Birds and mammals love them, and they can also be used for baking or jam making. The fall leaves turn shades of orange, red, and yellow.


2. Lead Plant

Lead plant
Lead plant is tough, loved by native bees, and beautiful.

Native to American prairies, leadplant (Amorpha canescens, 1-3 feet, Zones 2-9) is an attractive, hardy shrub to subshrub in the pea family that sets spikes of purplish pea flowers against silvery-green compound leaves in early to midsummer. The fragrant flowers are highly valuable to native bees. Once established, the plants are quite drought-tolerance and set deep roots–reaching as much as 4-feet down. The denser, green-leaved dwarf false indigo (Amorpha nana, 2-3 feet, Zones 3-9) has reddish-purple summer flower spikes with a strong honey fragrance.

3. Summersweet

'Ruby Spires'
‘Ruby Spires’ is a commonly sold summersweet variety with deep pink flowers. It can reach 6-8 feet.

The ivory flower spikes of summersweet (Clethra alnifolia, 3-8 feet, Zones 4-9) appear in summer and are followed by little brown fruits that are eaten by many birds and mammals. Butterflies can’t get enough of the flowers, including a wide variety of swallowtail species. Bees and hummingbirds also enjoy them. New growth is bronzy, ages to deep green, and then turns shades of orange and yellow in fall.

Though usually ivory-flowered, pink summersweet variants exist in the wild. ‘Ruby Spires’ (6-8 feet) is a commonly sold variety with especially deep pink flowers and golden fall foliage. Some varieties are also more compact for smaller gardens. ‘Compacta’ (3-4 feet) is a uniformly compact, shrubby, white-flowered form that is a bit more upright and compact than the comparable ‘Hummingbird‘, which flops a bit but is just as lovely.

4. Purple-Flowering Raspberry

The pretty flowers of purple-flowered raspberry appear through summer.
The pretty flowers of purple-flowered raspberry appear through summer.

The pink-flowered purple-flowered raspberry (Rubus odoratus, 3-6 feet, Zones 3-8) is probably the prettiest of all the North American raspberries. The eastern North American native inhabits open woods. Large, pink, or pinkish-purple flowers bloom throughout summer above suckering shrubs with pretty maple-shaped leaves. The fragrant flowers are pollinated by bees and butterflies. Edible, but dry and not-so-appealing raspberries ripen through summer and feed birds and wildlife. Plant it along a wooded or shady area where it can spread.


Natural buttonbush shrubs
Natural buttonbush shrubs are large, cut there are some compact varieties available.

The unique white, celestial-looking flowers of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis, 8-12 feet, Zones 5-9) are big butterfly attractors. Monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies, and silver-spotted skippers are all common visitors. Native bees like them, too. Natural shrubs grow quite large and favor moist soils. Full sun encourages the best flowering. Some desirable shorter varieties exist, namely the 4-foot-tall Sugar Shack® from Proven Winners.

Plant for wildlife as well as beauty and reap the rewards. It’s a pleasure to watch pollinators, birds, and other wildlife enjoy your plantings. Adding a good balance of natives will ensure that you are serving regional pollinators well as the honeybees.

Late-Winter Garden Flowers for Bees

Late-Winter Garden Flowers for Bees Featured Image
Amur Adonis is a very early bee flower with very showy flowers.
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The late-winter blooms of glistening snowdrops, golden witch hazel or the earliest crocuses are all bee-pollinated. Most of the first American woodland wildflowers are also pollinated by native bees. These pretty flowers are vital early forage for bee populations everywhere, which is why they should be a part of our spring gardens.

How Honeybees Beat Winter Cold

Bees flying over crocuses
Bees are quick to respond to chance warm days in winter when flowers first appear.

Bees cannot regulate their own body temperature. That means when it’s very warm they are most active, and as temperatures drop, they slow down and become unresponsive. The perfect temperature in a honeybee (Apis mellifera) hive is 95 degrees F, and at just 55 degrees F honeybees can no longer fly well. But, they never go dormant. They have found ways to keep themselves warm in the hive, even on very cold winter days, so they can immediately start flying to find nectar on a chance warm late-winter day when early flowers begin to appear. This helps them supplement waning stores of honey and stave off potential starvation.

Beehives in winter
Even on the coldest winter days, the inner cluster of honeybees inside is warm.

When temperatures drop, honeybees cluster in the hive around the queen. When temperatures head toward freezing, the bees closest to the queen begin to vibrate their wings and abdomens to physically create heat by friction–kind of like rubbing two pieces of wood together to create a fire. The bees on the outside of the cluster huddle tight, and still as insulation. This keeps hive interiors warm and bees ready for action.

Bee inside crocus
Reflective crocus flowers are actually several degrees warmer inside.

Spring flowers also help out! Some actually act like little greenhouses and warm up several degrees for bees. These blooms lay low to the ground, face upwards, are reflective, and track or catch the sun, which allows the temperature within each blossom to be a little higher. So, at each visit, the bees warm up a little. These mini-greenhouse flowers include adonis, crocus, and daffodils.

The First Bee Blooms

Bee on a Glory-of-the-snow flowers
Glory-of-the-snow is beautiful, early garden bulbs for bees.

Most of these are bulbs and wildflowers, but some bee-favored blooms appear on shrubs. Bees are most attracted to fragrant flowers with blooms or nectar guides of yellow, blue, or ultraviolet shades. That’s why so many bee flowers are yellow or blueish-purple. (Click here to learn more about the flower cues that attract bees and other pollinators).

Late-Winter Bee Flowers

Blue with blue pollen of blue Siberian squill flower
The pollen of blue Siberian squill flowers is also blue.

The small, bright yellow blooms of Amur Adonis (Adonis amurensis, Zones 3-7) are some of the first garden flowers to appear, sometimes flowering as early as January during warmer winters. Their clear, golden flowers have many petals, reach just several inches high, and rise above attractive ferny foliage. The leaves will disappear a couple of months after flowering. Winter aconite (Eranthus hyemalis, Zones 3-7) is similar, but it only reaches a few inches, has fewer gold petals, and naturalizes over time. Plant very early daffodils (Narcissus hybrids, Zones 4-8), such as ‘Jetfire’ and ‘February Gold’, alongside these and look for bees on their sun-drenched blossoms.

Bee on buttercup-yellow flower
The buttercup-yellow blooms of winter aconite stand on 3- to 4-inch plants.

Many little blue bulbs (4 to 8 inches) are all charming, naturalize, and provide essential bee forage in January, February, or March, depending on your zone. Siberian squill (Scilla siberica, Zones 2-8) with its nodding little bells of the richest violet-blue, has equally blue pollen, which is a fun site to see on a bee pollen basket. The flowers of glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae, Zones 3-8) look a little similar, but they are infused with white, upward facing, a little larger, and have yellow pollen. The even larger flowered Jessie spring starflower (Ipheion ‘Jessie’, Zones 5-9) is a bit taller (8 to 12 inches) and has the deepest blue starry flowers and looks very pretty alongside classic, super fragrant, violet-purple grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum, Zones 4-8), which blooms in earliest spring. (Click here to read more about grape hyacinths.) Plant all of these among the violet-blue, pink, or white daisy-like flowers of Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda, Zones 5-8) and woodland crocus (Crocus tommasinianus, Zones 3-8), which all bloom at the same time and attract bees just as powerfully

Bee flying towards snowdrops
Snowdrops can appear as early as late December or early January when winters are mild.

White, nodding snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) of all kinds bloom as early as December or January during very mild winters and attract bees to their sweetly scented flowers in flight. The simple, easy bulbs naturalize in small sweeps and resist late snowfall with ease.

Bee on a North American wildflower
Native bees rely on the numerous bloom of spring beauties, a North American wildflower.

Some North American native spring wildflowers are essential for native bees. Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica, Zones 3-8) with their tiny pink and white striated flowers, are some of the most important. They create vast sweeps of tiny flowers that bloom in the latest months of winter. The feathery-leaved Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, Zones 3-7) is another, which has delicate stems dotted with little v-shaped flowers of white. Early bumblebees find them irresistible. The yellow-flowered American trout lily (Erythronium americanum, Zones 3-8) with its flared, yellow, lily flowers and spotted foliage, is another to draw many early bees.

Late-Winter Bee Shrubs

Bee on witch hazel flowers
The strong scent of witch hazel flowers attracts bees on mild winter days.

Hybrid winter witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia, Zones 5-8) has the most exciting varieties to offer with flowers of yellow, orange, or rusty red. Even though they often bloom in January or early February, bees are drawn to their highly fragrant flowers. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas, Zones 4-8) has a comparable habit, golden flowers, and bloom time with the added benefit of edible fruits in summer, which are relished by birds. The common Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia, Zones 5-8) is another first-bloomer for bees that is easy to grow if given lots of sunlight. Their golden flowers are well-known and admired.

Bee on Cornelian cherry flowers
The golden flowers of Cornelian cherry are a favorite of bees.

All of these shrubs can be planted in fall or spring and appreciate a good helping of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost amended into the backfill at planting time.

Even a few of these flowers will make your winter landscape glow with color. And, the fact that they are some of the first flowers to feed bees makes them that more desirable and welcoming in the garden.

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is an especially pretty American wildflower for bees.

Chaste Tree For Bees, Butterflies, and Summer Blooms

Chaste Tree for Bees, Butterflies, and Summer Blooms Featured Image
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Think of chaste tree (Vitex agnuscastus) as an equally showy but less invasive alternative to the ubiquitous butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii).  A shrub or small tree that behaves as a dieback perennial in the coldest fringes of its USDA Hardiness Zones 5b to 9 hardiness range, it bears candelabras of lavender-blue flowers from summer into fall, enticing bees, butterflies, the occasional hummingbird, and other winged visitors.  Attractive, five-fingered, gray-green leaves make a nice textural compliment to the steepled blooms.  Adding to chaste tree’s allure is the pleasantly pungent fragrance of all its parts (as might be expected of a member of the mint family).

Chaste Tree Hardiness and Habit

Chaste tree with purple flowers
Chaste tree literally grows as a flowering tree in warmer zones. (Image by Cilias)

Chaste tree has long been grown in warmer regions of the U.S., where it typically forms a multi-stemmed, 15- to 20-foot tree.  But it’s arguably an even better fit for gardens in USDA Zones 5 and 6, where it usually remains much more compact thanks to winter dieback.  Like butterfly bush, in these colder regions, it resprouts from the base in late spring, mushrooming into a rounded, 3- to 6-foot shrub that flowers on new growth.  Furthermore, unlike butterfly bush, it doesn’t seed itself prolifically after flowering (although self-sowing can be a problem in the Southwest and California).

Chaste Tree Growing Needs

Chaste tree purple flowers

Another point in chaste tree’s favor is its toughness.  It takes readily to just about any sunny, not-too-soggy site; tolerates drought and salt; and rarely requires special treatment. In heavy clay soil it may benefit from the addition of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost for increased organic matter and drainage. Yet, despite its many merits, chaste tree has received relatively little attention from gardeners, perhaps because of the scarcity of cultivars selected for growth habit, flower color, and other traits.

Chaste Tree Varieties

Vitex agnus-castus 'Pink Pinnacle' with pink flower spires
Vitex agnus-castus ‘Pink Pinnacle’ has lovely pink flower spires.

All this is changing.  A number of recently introduced cultivars mature as small to medium shrubs rather than as bushy mini-trees, broadening its versatility in Southern gardens.  Additionally, these recent introductions come in a range of colors including pink, white, and various shades of blue.  Wherever you garden, the possibilities for chaste tree are greater than ever – including as a summer-blooming centerpiece for containers.

Among the smallest of the new cultivars is ‘Blue Puffball’, which forms a dense, 4-foot mound covered with deep sky-blue spires.  It makes an obvious choice for containers and perennial borders, perhaps in place of Caryopteris.  As with all forms of chaste tree, flowering continues from summer to fall if spent blooms are regularly deadheaded.  The somewhat larger ‘Blue Diddley’ offers spikes of the typical lavender-blue on densely borne stems that top out at 6 feet or so.  Larger still, ‘Delta Blues’ produces spires of rich purple-blue flowers on 8- to 10-foot plants set with elegant, relatively narrow-fingered leaves.

Chaste tree with purple flowers
Larger chaste tree varieties require a large, sunny area to reach their full potential.

Compact chaste trees of another color include ‘Pink Pinnacle’, prized for its abundant mid-pink spires on compact, mounded, 4- to 6-foot plants.  Paler in color and larger in growth, ‘Blushing Spires’ bears shell-pink blooms and matures at 10 to 12 feet tall and wide.  Compact white cultivars – such as the 8-foot-tall ‘Dale White’ – are especially rare (grab one if you see one!).

Of course, as mentioned earlier, in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and 6 full-size cultivars such as white ‘Silver Spire’, deep lilac-blue ‘Shoal Creek’, and sapphire-blue ‘Le Comte’ behave as small to medium shrubs due to winterkill.  In milder regions, they can be treated as small trees or maintained as shrubs via an annual hard pruning in early spring.

Other Vitex Species

Vitex negundo flowers
The flowers of Vitex negundo are less showy. (Image by Magnus Mansk)

Another excellent summer-bloomer for Zones 5 to 9 is chaste tree’s hardier and more obscure relative, Chinese chaste tree (V. negundo).  Although less showy in flower, it surpasses chaste tree in its lacy, deeply incised foliage, which in varieties such as heterophylla rivals that of a fine Japanese maple.  Hybrids between Vitex negundo and other Vitex species (as well as between chaste tree and its kin) are in the works, so stay tuned!  Many more summer-blooming treasures for your garden (and containers) are yet to come from the Vitex tribe.

10 Terrific Flowers for Honey Bees

Rudbeckia lacinata 'Autumn Sun'
Rudbeckia lacinata ‘Autumn Sun’ is a late-summer bloomer that bees love.

The decline in honey bees (Apis mellifera) has heightened the popularity of honey bee plants. Many favorite flowers for honey bees, like sweetclover, thistle, alfalfa and dandelion, are Eurasian plants too weedy for flower beds. Thankfully, there are some beautiful summer garden flowers, many being  North American natives, which are also great nectar and pollen plants favored by these Old World native bees. Regional natives are also superb forage plants for regional bees.
Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend packThe best honey bee plants provide a good supply of both sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen sought after by these and other long-tongued bees. Lots of beautiful garden flowers provide both in high quantities. Here are our top 10 favorites organized by bloom time. Choose one for each blooming period and you’ll have great bee blooms throughout the growing season! All are sun-loving and grow best in good soils with regular to good drainage. Amend with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend and feed with a fertilizer for flowers, such as Black Gold Rose & Flower Fertilizer, for best results.

Early Summer Bee Flowers

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida, perennial)Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida, perennial): An elegant beauty with fine, drooping petals, the pale purple coneflower is a bee favorite that also produces seeds much loved by finches. A native of grasslands and savannahs across the Eastern United States, this tough coneflower will bloom for up to three weeks from June to July. When in bloom, its flowers will feed lots of bees. You might even see a few butterflies on them as well.

Achillea millefolium 'Strawberry Seduction'Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium, perennial): The bright, flattened heads of common yarrow are covered with tiny daisy flowers that bees really favor. Native to both Eurasia and North America, this plant attracts loads of pollinators no matter where it’s planted. There are many beautiful varieties for the garden; two of the better variants are the rich red ‘Strawberry Seduction’ (image left) and ‘Wonderful Wampee’, which has pink flowers that fade to nearly white. 

Summer Bee Flowers

Sunflower with beesSunflowers (Helianthus annuus, annual): Nothing attracts and feeds bees like good old sunflowers. Their massive and prolific blooms come in shades of yellow, gold, red and orange and give way to lots of oil-rich seeds enjoyed by seed-eating birds and humans alike. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose with various flower colors, heights and flower sizes. The dwarf varieties ‘Little Becka‘ (image left; 3-4’ tall with gold and brown flowers) and ‘Big Smile’ (1-2′ tall with classic golden flowers with black centers) are choice selections for any garden.
Agastache Blue BoaBlue Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, perennial): The pretty spires of purple flowers produced by the giant hyssop become simply covered with bees. A native across the northern regions of North America, this fragrant perennial in the mint family it tough and very hardy. The hybrid Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ (image left by Terra Nova Nurseries) is an exceptional variety from Terra Nova Nursery that is exceptionally beautiful.

Monarda punctata and Salvia coccineaHorsemint (Monarda punctata, perennial): Few garden perennials draw bees as efficiently as the long-blooming horsemint. A native of much of the United States, this sun-lover produces tiers of unique pink to white bracted flowers through much of summer and into fall. The blooms of these fragrant plants last a long time and become completely covered with pollinators. Plant in very well-drained soil for best performance.

Echinacea Dixie BellePurple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, perennial): The popularity of purple coneflowers and their many hybrids serves as a testament to their beauty and resilience. All are a favorite of bees, and like the pale purple coneflower, seed-eating birds enjoy the seedheads that follow. The purple-pink daisy flowers begin blooming in summer and will easily continue into late summer and even fall if the old flowers are removed. Some of the better new variants for big, long-blooming flowers include ‘Dixie Belle’ (left, image by Terra Nova Nurseries) and the super heavy blooming ‘Pica Bella’
Black-eyed SusanBlack-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp., annual or perennial): Nothing says summer like a beautiful black-eyed Susan, and bees appreciate their prolific flowers just as much as we do. One to seek out is the heavy blooming dwarf ‘Little Goldstar’ (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Little Goldstar’).

 Late-Summer and Fall Bee Flowers

Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'Asters (Symphotrichum spp., perennial): The pinks, blues and purples of late-summer and fall aster flowers are a delight to all bees. There are so many wonderful varieties to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. The classic ‘October Skies’ (image left, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) is a wonderful late bloomer with lavender-blue flowers and orange centers, and the dusty sky blue ‘Bluebird’  (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) is an earlier bloomer with prolific flowers.

Eupatorium purpureumJoe-Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp., perennial): This group of mid-to late-summer bloomers produces big, fuzzy heads of purplish-red flowers filled with nectar and pollen. Native across North America, many of the sun-loving perennials are adapted to moist ground. One of the finest garden varieties is Eutrochium purpureum ‘Little Red’ with its 4′ tall stature and pretty reddish-purple flowers.

SolidagoGoldenrods (Solidago spp., perennial): Lauded as one of the best bee flowers for late summer and fall, goldenrods become a buzzing mass when they open. In fact, goldenrod honey is a delicacy, known to be darker with a distinctive bite. Excellent garden-worthy goldenrods include the dwarf forms ‘Golden Fleece’ (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’) and ‘Baby Gold’ (Solidago ‘Baby Gold’).
With just a few of these garden beauties, feeding the bees all summer long is easy.

Flower Traits for Pollinators: Understanding Pollination Syndromes

Flower Traits for Pollinators: Understanding Pollination Syndromes Featured Image

Flowers are pollinator magnets—each holding the secret for pollinator attraction. Flowers communicate to birds, bees, bats, or butterflies through special cues. These cues are essentially groups of traits relating to things like flower size, shape, color, scent, as well as nectar and pollen characteristics. “Pollination syndromes” is another term for these trait groups, and they can be helpful for gardeners, too. If you know them, you can better understand how to design your gardens and containers to draw specific pollinators.

Pollination Syndromes

A tiger swallowtail butterfly takes nectar from a summer zinnia.
A tiger swallowtail butterfly takes nectar from a summer zinnia. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

Showy flowers are displaying their NEED to be pollinated by insects, birds, or other pollinators. Truly, floral displays are about two things: sex and competition. Pollination is required for cross-fertilization (gene exchange to keep plant populations healthy and species surviving). Flowers also offer essential food rewards for pollinators. So as pollinators compete for flowers and flowers compete for pollinators our gardens reap the reward of color and movement. Types of pollinators are many, and some flowers and pollinators are specially designed for one another. One pollinator to one plant species relationships are very rare. More often plants have pollination syndromes directed towards broader pollinator groups, like bee, bird, butterfly, and bat. Once gardeners know these, they can choose flowers with specific pollinators in mind.

Bee Pollination (Melittophily)

Highly fragrant flowers in blue or yellow shades that are designed for landing are bee favorites.
Highly fragrant flowers in blue or yellow shades that are designed for landing are bee favorites. (Image by Jessie Keith)

There are lots of bees with around 20,000 known distinct species. Nonetheless, specific floral traits attract them all. Bees are attracted to yellow, blue and ultra-violet colors, they eat pollen and sugary nectar, have a strong sense of smell, and they land on the flowers they pollinate. In turn, most bee flowers are either in yellow or blue shades or have nectar guides (petal marks indicating nectar) in these colors or ultra-violet; their nectar is sugary nectar, the flowers are fragrant and they produce lots of pollen. Finally, the flowers are designed for landing, offering bell or bowl shapes like bellflowers (Campanula spp.), heads like sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), or wide tubes like snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.). Planting for bees has become more and more important as bee populations decline.

Bird Pollination (Ornithophily)

Flowers pollinated by birds are usually red or orange because birds are more sensitive to red and insect pollinators are less sensitive to it. Red and orange also indicate big nectar rewards, another trait of bird-pollinated flowers. Hummingbirds are the most specialized bird pollinators on the planet. Hummingbirds are very sensitive to red, hover while feeding, have long beaks/tongues and must consume lots of nectar to keep their wings flapping at 18 to 200 beats per second. They also have no sense of smell. So hummingbird flowers are odorless, typically red or orange-hued, tubular, nectar-filled and lack landing pads. Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), red beebalm (Monarda didyma) and fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.) are all hummingbird-pollinated flowers.

Butterfly Pollination (Psychophily)

Monarch butterflies love milkweed!
Monarch butterflies love milkweed! (Image by Jessie Keith)

There are nearly as many butterflies as bees with around 17,500 different known species. As a group, they have a sense of smell, long curled tongues (proboscis), sharp color vision, and they must perch to feed. So, most butterfly flowers are brightly colored, lack a scent, are shaped for perching and have long, tubular nectaries perfect for a butterfly’s proboscis. Everyone wants to invite butterflies to their garden, and there are lots of garden flowers that attract them. Madagascar periwinkle, Lantana and phlox blooms are just three examples of the many flowers uniquely designed for butterfly pollination.

Moth Pollination (Phalaenophily)

Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) attracts a hawkmoth in the evening.
Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) attracts a hawkmoth in the evening.

Nighttime pollinators like moths have good night sight and an excellent sense of smell. So, moth-pollinated flowers are always highly fragrant and pale or white. Lots of moths are also hover feeders, so many moth-pollinated flowers are funnel-shaped and large, in addition to being very fragrant at night. Some classic moth flowers include angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.), moonflower (Ipomoea alba) and woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). (Click here to learn more about moth gardening.)

Bat Pollination (Chiropterophily)

Bats pollinate large, fruity-smelling flowers with lots of nectar.
Bats pollinate large, fruity-smelling flowers with lots of nectar.

If you live down South or out West, you can expect to be able to invite a bat or two into your garden, if you choose the right flowers. Most bat pollinators are nocturnal and rely on echolocation, as well as smell, to find food. These fruit and nectar feeders have very high metabolisms, so they are attracted to large lightly colored nocturnal blooms that smell strongly of fermenting fruit and have lots of dilute nectar. The fruity flowers of mangoes, bananas, and guava are all bat pollinated. Many species of cacti have flowers that draw bats as well.

Pollination Generalists

Some flowers are “smart” and appear to have lots of bells and whistles to attract lots of different pollinators. These flowers are generally very successful and buzz with activity when in bloom. Flowers like goldenrod and thistles draw diverse groups of beetles, bees, butterflies and even flies.
Many other pollination syndromes exist, but these are the most common for gardeners. Knowing the basics allows garden planners to plant for the birds, bees, and butterflies to make our gardens and world a better place.

Pollinator Container Plan:

Sun-loving flowers

This trio of everblooming, sun-loving flowers look great together—with their warm and cool hues—and will attract lots of pollinators. Begin by choosing an attractive, 5-gallon flower pot and fill it ¾ of the way full with Fafard Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed. Then plant together the following:
1. Gaillardia Heat it Up Scarlet (12 to 24 inches, bushy perennial, attracts bees and butterflies)
2. Lantana montevidensis Luscious® Grape (10 to 14 inches, trailing bloomer, attracts butterflies)
3. Agastache ‘Kudos Ambrosia’ (16-22 inches, upright perennial, attracts hummingbirds (seen left))
With good care, this perfect summer pot will look great all season long.