Bees, hummingbirds, bats, and beetles are all pollinators—animals that assist in plant reproduction.
With recent declines in bee populations, there is a growing awareness of the contribution pollinators make to the ecosystem, and to the human food supply. According to a report from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC), these helpful creatures fertilize 90 percent of flowering plants and one third of human food crops.
Habitat loss, disease, and excessive pesticide use are responsible for the drop in pollinator numbers. Planting pollinator-friendly flora can help encourage their return.
Different flower traits attract different garden guests. Butterflies, for example, are partial to purple flowers, while bees are especially attracted to bright white, yellow, or blue. Bats prefer musty smelling flowers that release their scent at night, while pollinating birds show little attraction to fragrance.
NAPPC recommends that gardeners choose a variety of plants to provide nectar and pollen throughout the growing season, and suggests leaving some areas of bare ground for nesting bees. Above all, eliminate pesticide use, which kills the pollinators as well as the pests.
An easy way to see what bee- and bird-attracting plants might work best for your garden, consider the Bee Smart Pollinator Gardener app, which suggests plants based on light and soil requirements, bloom color, and the type of pollinators you wish to attract.
There are nearly 1,000 pollinator attracting plants native to North America. Here are six favorites:
1. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Common Milkweed has a unique pollination mechanism that requires both butterflies and bees. Named for its milky sap, Common Milkweed features a cluster of pale pink flowers that blooms from June to August, and leaves behind a large seed pod. Considered a weed in some gardens, many insects, such as Monarch butterflies, depend on this sun-loving plant for survival.
2. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterfly features brilliant yellow to orange flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Another member of the milkweed family, Butterfly Weed is drought tolerant.
3. Monarda (Bee Balm)
Monarda has enjoyed a long history among Native American tribes as a medicine, but it’s also a longtime favorite of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds as well. With a scent similar to oregano, Monarda flowers range from red to pink to purple.
4. Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea)
Purple Cone Flower is perhaps best known for its immune boosting properties. Native species feature pale pink flower petals, but the easy-to-grow perennial now comes in a rainbow of hybrids, attracting bees and butterflies alike.
5. Solidago (Goldenrod)
Solidago has striking yellow flowers that appear in late summer when the early bloomers have faded. Goldenrod is often falsely accused for causing seasonal allergies (perhaps because it flowers at about the same time as ragweed) but some herbalists actually use it as an allergy remedy. Goldenrod attracts migrating butterflies, bees, and beetles.
Lavender isn’t native to North America, but it’s been here since the 1600s thanks to Pilgrims who brought the treasured plant over from Europe. This calming, aromatic member of the mint family features stalks of tiny pale-purple flowers that are a favorite among pollinators in both the New and Old World alike.