Many food plants depend on visits from the birds and the bees to transfer pollen and ensure good crops. We can do our part to correct declining pollinator populations by choosing their favorite plants and eliminating insecticides in our landscapes.
The shape of a flower, the scent, the colors and even the time they bloom are all strategies that have evolved to attract specific types of pollinators. For example, because hummingbirds have long pointed beaks and long brush-like tongues, they prefer deep, tubular flowers. Hummingbirds also prefer red, orange and white flowers. Butterflies like bright-colored flowers, including red and purple. Some species like a place to land so they prefer broad, flat flowers, with a faint but fresh scent. Bees like bright-colored flowers, including white, yellow and blue, with sweet scents. As for flower shapes, bees can access pollen and nectar from flowers of almost any shape.
I took these tips from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to guide my backyard garden plantings:
- Use plants with overlapping bloom times to provide flowers throughout the season.
- Select plants with a variety of colors and shapes to attract different pollinators.
- Plant in clumps, rather than single plants.
- Whenever possible, choose native plants. Avoid modern hybrids, as the pollen, nectar and fragrance is sometimes unwittingly bred out of these plants in exchange for “perfect” blooms.
- Include night-blooming flowers for moths and bats.
- Avoid pesticides, even so-called “natural” ones, such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which can be toxic to butterfly larvae.
Pollinators’ favorite plants in my garden:
- Bees: daisies, asters, sunflowers, salvia, mint, lavender
- Hummingbirds: trumpet vine, coral honeysuckle, hollyhocks, sage
- Butterflies: zinnia, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis