Pollination in the plant world is very important to humans. It is estimated that one in every three bites of food we take is a result of pollination. Not only does pollination ensure that we have fruits and vegetables, but coffee to drink and chocolate to eat. When you think pollinators, the first thing that comes to mind are bees.
While bees are leading pollinators, they get help from butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, and some insects like beetles and flies. Flies are often the unsung heroes in pollination, ranking second after bees and often providing more consistent pollination in early spring than bees.
Pollinator gardens have become a popular gardening trend. To attract as many pollinators as possible, diversity in plant material is important, as is diversity in bloom periods. Some pollinators stay year-round, while others appear during the growing season. Pollinators are attracted by nectar and pollen, and they find flowers through color, fragrance, and shapes and sizes of blooms. Different types of pollinators have different preferences.
Make sure you have something blooming in every season. Butterflies, moths, flies, and hummingbirds are not very active in cold weather, but bees are around all year. While bats can help some in Arkansas, they are more important pollinators in the rainforest.
Some plants are attractive to a wide range of pollinators, while others have very specific pollinators. Pollinator-attracting plants can include annual flowers, vegetables, fruit trees and bushes, perennials, trees and shrubs. Not all plants are created equal; a pretty flower doesn’t mean it is a good pollinator plant. Forsythia and tulip magnolia are showy plants that are worthless to pollinators. Many highly hybridized species contain less pollen and nectar than the original species.
While many gardeners plant hoping to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, a well-planned garden can be host to a wide range of pollinators.
|Pollinators||Flower Colors||Types of Blooms||Nectar/Pollen||Suggested Plants|
|Bees (honeybees as well as 450-650 bee species)||Can't see red. Prefer white, yellow and purple flowers.||Mild, sweet-smelling blooms with a landing platform. Open or flat flowers.||Search for nectar and pollen year-round.||Clover, vitex, monarda, sunflower, redbud, penstemon, asters, ironweed, rosemary, camallias|
|Butterflies||Prefer bright red and purple blooms.||Mild-scented blooms with wide landing area and a narrow-tubed nectar vessel.||Needs host plants to lay eggs on and food for larvae. Needs nectar plants for adults.||Milkweed, echinacea, lantana, monarda, Joe-Pye weed, sedum|
|Moths||Prefer white flowers, which are more visible at night.||Night-scented.||Host and nectar plants needed.||Honeysuckle, evening, primrose, Nicotiana, Liatris, mayapple, yucca|
|Hummingbirds||Prefer orange and red blooms.||Tubular blossoms.||Good nectar.||Agastache, monarda, coral and trumpet honeysuckle, salvia, penstemon, Honeybells Cuphea, pentas|
|Flies (160,000 species with varying preferences)||Pale and dull to dark brown or purple.||Often putrid odor, like rotted meat or dung.||Flies feed on nectar and carry pollen as they visit a variety of blooms.||Cacao (chocolate), carrion flower, blackberries, catnip|
|Bats (pollinator of bananas, guava, mangoes and agave for tequila)||Large, white or pale flowers that are open at night.||Musty or fermented smell at night, Copious nectar. Bowl-shaped.||Bats feed on insects in flowers as well as the nectar.||Evening primrose, fleabane, moonflowers, Nicotiana, four o'clock, goldenrod|
|Beetles (including ladybugs)||Dull white or green.||Mild or fruity scents, large, bowl-shaped.||Pollen more important than nectar.||Magnolia, pawpaw, Illicium, spicebush, waterlilies|