Pollinators ♥ Native Plants Pt.1
Pollinators are animals which transport pollen from one plant to another aiding in the plant’s reproduction – creating seeds & fruits. Common pollinators include insects (especially bees), butterflies, moths, birds, bats and small mammals.
Pollinators are important for a healthy ecosystem & critical to many food crops, but are often lacking in urban gardens & landscapes. If plants are not pollinated, seeds & fruits are not produced. If these plants cannot reproduce, native pollinators will not have the necessary food & shelter to survive, thus creating a vicious cycle.
By planting native flowering plants & grasses in the garden and/or landscape you will likely improve native pollinator populations by providing this needed food and forage.
Because native plants have evolved to adapt to their native environment, they are generally disease & pest resistant. This keeps them low maintenance & without the need for pesticides that can be detrimental to native pollinators, other wildlife, pets and humans.
Listed below are some native flowering plants that play well in the urban garden/landscape along with some interesting facts about the pollinators that love these plants.
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia grandiflora)
Although flies are not as hairy as bees, making them less effective at carrying pollen, research indicates that flies may contribute significantly to the pollination of North American flowers and many food plants.
Blanket Flower is native to the Southwest, so it may not be a first choice for Midwest pollinators, but it makes up for this with its warm colors, compact behavior, long bloom period (June-October) & easy maintenance.
Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
Skippers are not true butterflies, but are more closely related to butterflies than moths. Both butterflies and skippers are extremely sensitive to pesticides and toxins, so their presence alone, is indicative of a healthy environment. Providing nectar plants like Blazing Star and planting host plants, which include many native grasses & plants of the Legume family (Fabaceae), can help increase skipper populations.
Blazing Star is also a preferred nectar plant for the Tiger Swallowtail & Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies. It is a beautiful addition to the landscape for early summer color.
Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
Many moths, like butterflies, feed on nectar. Most moths are crepuscular (active during twilight hours) or are nocturnal (active during nighttime hours), making them important pollinators for early morning & night blooming plants such as Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) & Yucca species.
Brown-eyed Susan is very pest resistant and a great nectar source for pollinators & a good seed source for birds.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Leaf-cutting & Mason bees are important pollinators of wildflowers, fruits, vegetables and other crops. The Alfalfa Leaf-cutting bee (Megachile rotundata) is not native to North America but is cultivated here for the sole purpose of pollination, mostly for alfalfa & carrots. Mason Bees (Osmia) are used as commercial pollinators in crops such as alfalfa and blueberries.
Butterflies may not be as efficient as bees, but they are still considered to be important pollinators. Pollen is transported on their legs as they walk around a flower drinking nectar. More importantly, in regards to native plants, butterfly caterpillars will only feed on native plants specific to their species. These are called ‘host plants’ and are absolutely necessary to their survival. Destruction of native Milkweed habitats, the Monarch’s host plant, has led to a recent decline in Monarch populations. Planting native host plants will help ensure the survival of our native butterflies. The North American Butterfly Association has excellent information on butterfly host plants listed by region
Butterfly Weed is a member of the Milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae). Milkweeds are the sole Monarch caterpillar food source. Milkweeds have a unique pollination mechanism making them reliant on insects for pollination.
Metallic Green Bees
Metallic Green Bees are in the Sweat Bee family (Halictidae). They are small but an awesome sight nonetheless. They are considered to be generalist pollinators because they visit a wide variety of flowers and do not discriminate among specific plant species. These bees use a technique called buzz pollination. The bee places the anther (the pollen bearing structure of the flower) in its jaw and vibrates each flower with its flight muscles, releasing the pollen.
Coneflowers are also excellent food sources for many other pollinators, beneficial insects & particularly birds. For this reason it is recommended to allow some flowers to seed. Also be sure to plant naturally occurring cultivars. Many tissue cultivated Coneflowers are sterile and therefore do not produce seeds. E. purpurea, E. pallida, E. tennesseensis, and E. paradoxa are all natural species.
Coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora)
Small Carpenter Bees
Small Carpenter Bees are often confused with Metallic Green Bees because of their greenish-blue color, but they are much darker & duller. Like Metallic Green Bees, they are generalists and will visit a great variety of flowers.
Coreopsis is a great addition to any garden because of its long bloom period (June-October). It also attracts many beneficial insects & pollinators and birds like to feed on the seeds
Read about more native plants and the pollinators that love them – Pollinators ♥ Native Plants Pt.2