Pollinator-friendly Flowers

Native wildflowers bloom all summer long in a native plant garden. Plants that historically evolved here, adapting to our climate and soils, are relatively easy to grow and maintain. Flowers advertise their nectar and pollen to pollinating insects with colorful petals or sepals, sweet scents, and different sizes and textures.

Here are a few species that are pleasing to humans and pollinators alike:

Bergamot: Wild bergamot is also known as bee balm because it is a bee magnet. Its scientific name, Monarda fistulosa, recognizes the Spanish physician and plant scientist Nicolas Monardes, who published a book in 1571 on the medicinal values of American plants, and fistulosa, meaning “full of pipes,” which describes the tubular florets. With 20 to 30 lavender florets per globe-shaped flower cluster, each insect finds enough nectar in one location to satisfy itself. Hummingbirds and many butterflies also visit this flower. Bergamot likes a sunny location and will readily spread in a few years. Brushing past the leaves, you smell their citrus-minty aroma, which can also be brewed in tea.

Milkweed: Three milkweed species bloom through summer. Common milkweed offers a ball-shaped cluster of pink florets, preferring loamy soil in sunny locations. Swamp milkweed sports a curved platform of purplish florets, growing best in moist soil of marshes, ditches, or rain gardens. Butterflyweed’s bright orange clusters like sunny drier sites, even growing in sandy soil. Each Asclepias (milkweed) flower is an intricate five-pointed star pattern. Anthers form hoods over horn-shaped nectar-producing chambers. Between them are slits that contain the pollen and the stigma opening where pollen must be delivered to reach the ovaries, thus producing seeds. Milkweeds are host plants for monarch caterpillars and a community of bugs, beetles, leafhoppers, and predatory insects.

Beardtongue: Foxglove beardtongue’s tubular white flowers acquired their name from the tuft of hairs on one of the stamens. The stalked flower clusters stand above the paired leaves, with purple lines leading inward. Beardtongue is a good choice for prairie gardens, borders, or rock gardens. Plants spread by slow-creeping rhizomes to form desirable clumps.

Coreopsis: Lance-leaved coreopsis attracts butterflies to its bright yellow petals. A low-maintenance, hardy plant, it blooms for several weeks and is good for naturalizing an area because it readily reseeds.

Choose a variety of species for your pollinator-friendly gardens!

Lure Butterflies to Your Garden

Sweet stuff. Nectar is a sugar-rich fluid produced by glands at the base of flowers. It’s made of natural sugars—55 percent sucrose, 24 percent glucose, and 21 percent fructose—and is the sugar source for honey. Different flower species allow honeybees to make different flavors of honey. Mammals that eat flowers, such as rabbits, deer, or squirrels, also benefit from these nutrients.

Hide and seek. Insects find nectar by following the lines of color inside flower corollas, drawing them to the center. We easily notice many of these nectar guides, but others only bees can see. To bees that see ultraviolet light, some plants such as sunflowers appear to show a bull’s-eye pattern on the petals around a dark center where the nectar is made. Try looking at your flowers with a UV light sometime.

Pollen particulars. Pollen moved by insects is usually heavier than pollen spread by the wind, such as the pollen from grasses or trees. Pollen grains come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Scientists who find pollen buried underground can identify the species that existed long ago, helping them picture ancient environments.

Hang out the welcome sign. To attract more pollinators, plant similar-colored flowers in adjacent groups. Choose at least three species for each season—spring, summer, and fall—to ensure a continuum of blooms.


Native wildflowers bloom all summer long in a native plant garden. Plants that historically evolved here, adapting to our climate and soils, are relatively easy to grow and maintain. Flowers advertise their nectar and pollen to pollinating insects with colorful petals or sepals, sweet scents, and different sizes and textures.

Here are a few species that are pleasing to humans and pollinators alike:

Bergamot: Wild bergamot is also known as bee balm because it is a bee magnet. Its scientific name, Monarda fistulosa, recognizes the Spanish physician and plant scientist Nicolas Monardes, who published a book in 1571 on the medicinal values of American plants, and fistulosa, meaning “full of pipes,” which describes the tubular florets. With 20 to 30 lavender florets per globe-shaped flower cluster, each insect finds enough nectar in one location to satisfy itself. Hummingbirds and many butterflies also visit this flower. Bergamot likes a sunny location and will readily spread in a few years. Brushing past the leaves, you smell their citrus-minty aroma, which can also be brewed in tea.

Milkweed: Three milkweed species bloom through summer. Common milkweed offers a ball-shaped cluster of pink florets, preferring loamy soil in sunny locations. Swamp milkweed sports a curved platform of purplish florets, growing best in moist soil of marshes, ditches, or rain gardens. Butterflyweed’s bright orange clusters like sunny drier sites, even growing in sandy soil. Each Asclepias (milkweed) flower is an intricate five-pointed star pattern. Anthers form hoods over horn-shaped nectar-producing chambers. Between them are slits that contain the pollen and the stigma opening where pollen must be
delivered to reach the ovaries, thus producing seeds. Milkweeds are host plants for monarch caterpillars and a community of bugs, beetles, leafhoppers, and predatory insects.

Beardtongue: Foxglove beardtongue’s tubular white flowers acquired their name from the tuft of hairs on one of the stamens. The stalked flower clusters stand above the paired leaves, with purple lines leading inward. Beardtongue is a good choice for prairie gardens, borders, or rock gardens. Plants spread by slow-creeping rhizomes to form desirable clumps.

Coreopsis: Lance-leaved coreopsis attracts butterflies to its bright yellow petals. A low-maintenance, hardy plant, it blooms for several weeks and is good for naturalizing an area because it readily reseeds.

Choose a variety of species for your pollinator-friendly gardens!

Lure Butterflies to Your Garden

Sweet stuff. Nectar is a sugar-rich fluid produced by glands at the base of flowers. It’s made of natural sugars—55 percent sucrose, 24 percent glucose, and 21 percent fructose—and is the sugar source for honey. Different flower species allow honeybees to make different flavors of honey. Mammals that eat flowers, such as rabbits, deer, or squirrels, also benefit from these nutrients.

Hide and seek. Insects find nectar by following the lines of color inside flower corollas, drawing them to the center. We easily notice many of these nectar guides, but others only bees can see. To bees that see ultraviolet light, some plants such as sunflowers appear to show a bull’s-eye pattern on the petals around a dark center where the nectar is made. Try looking at your flowers with a UV light sometime.

Pollen particulars. Pollen moved by insects is usually heavier than pollen spread by the wind, such as the pollen from grasses or trees. Pollen grains come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Scientists who find pollen buried underground can identify the species that existed long ago, helping them picture ancient environments.

Hang out the welcome sign. To attract more pollinators, plant similar-colored flowers in adjacent groups. Choose at least three species for each season—spring, summer, and fall—to ensure a continuum of blooms.

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