Choosing Plants for Pollinators

December 1, 2017

By: Ron Kushner


Pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of most of our plants and the produce we grow in our gardens. The loss of commercial bees to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been well documented. It is urgent for gardeners to try and help pollinators thrive. By adding certain plants that produce food, water and shelter for pollinators, we can all make a difference to the population of these most necessary creatures.

The pollinators in our area include bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies and birds. I have limited the list to readily available plants and some of my favorites. There are many others.

Native bees in our area pollinate many crops. Their tongues of varying lengths help determine which flowers they can draw nectar and pollen from. They are generally attracted to flowers with white, yellow and shades of red/violet blossoms. Flower shape is best if tubular. Example include:

Salvia spp. Viola spp. Phlox spp. Actaea racemosa
Aster spp. Chelone glabra Monarda spp. Eupatorium spp.
Alyssum spp. Agastache spp. Annual poppies Clover


Butterflies love flowering plants that are in full sun, are protected from the wind and are near water sources and contain specific host plants. Also, try to provide open areas or at least large stones where they can rest safely. Butterflies may cause some damage to host plants that provide food for the larval stage. Many trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants support butterfly populations. Larval food plant examples include:

Apiaceae including carrot, celery & dill Prunus spp. Magnolia virginiana Betula spp.
Baptisia australis Aquilegia canadensis Symphyotrichum spp. Helianthus spp.
Rudbeckia hirta Vaccinium spp. arctostaphylos uva-ursi Asclepias tuberosa, syriaca & incarnata


Moths are usually active at night as opposed to butterflies which prefer sunshine. They are attracted to flowers that open at night.


Beetles also play a role in pollination, even though they tend to damage plants as they eat and drop pollen here and there. They generally like large, strong scented flowers such as Magnolia, Calycanthus, Asimina triloba (Paw Paw) and yellow pond lilies. Others include:

Sambucus spp. Geranium spp. Helianthus spp. Lupinus perennis


Flies are pollinators for many species of plants. They primarily pollinate small flowers that bloom in shade, especially in moist soil. Plants pollinated by flies include:

Asimina triloba Solidago spp. Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s lace) Salix nigra
Sambucus spp. Geranium spp.


Hummingbirds are the primary birds that pollinate in our area. Pollen is carried on their beaks and feathers. They are attracted to bright colored, tubular flowers. It is interesting to note that hummingbirds can see the color red but bees cannot. Specific plants that attract hummingbirds include:

Agastache spp. Aesculus pavia Aquilegia canadensis Asclepias spp.
Lobellia spp. Monarda spp. Salvia spp. Lonicera sempervirens


In addition to planting various native and host plants, try not to be too concerned with total neatness. Leave some dead branches, leaf litter and some weeds that provide food and shelter for pollinators. Also, always provide safe access to a clean water supply. An excellent resource for information is Pollinator Partnership. Visit their website here:

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