4 Flowers You Can Plant to Support Our Pollinator Friends

By Lindsay Hendricks, Assistant Director of Horticulture

Did you know that pollinators are responsible for 1 out of 3 bites of food we eat each day? When pollinators visit flowers to drink nectar or eat pollen, they move that pollen to other flowers and plants. Seeds then begin to grow and some plants grow a fruit or vegetable to protect those seeds.

We harvest these fruits and vegetables to eat and without pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, bats and birds, we would likely starve! Since they help provide the food we eat, we need to help provide them with the food they eat.

Native plants seem to get the most attention as some believe they are the most pollinator friendly, but the truth is that many non-native annuals and perennials are perfect pollinator plants, too.

When selecting plants for pollinators, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If possible, choose plants that are food sources for young pollinators (i.e. Monarch caterpillars) and plants that are nectar sources for adult pollinators (i.e. Monarch butterflies). Doing so allows your garden to support the full life cycle of pollinators.
  • Plants located in sunny areas with windbreaks tend to be most appealing, as most insect pollinators require warmth to fly and do not like wind disturbance when feeding.
  • Creating large areas of plants and establishing a continuous bloom throughout the growing season will help attract the largest diversity of pollinators to your garden.
  • As always, eliminate or minimize the use of pesticides as they are harmful to pollinators.

So what are some good plants for our pollinator friends? Below are just a few examples of the many pollinator plants that you can find in our Butterflies & Blooms exhibit and plant in your own living space (i.e. gardens, yards, containers on patios, window boxes, etc.).

Common Milkweed

common milkweed plant PC Wood Thrush Natives

Botanical Name: Asclepias syriaca PC: Wood Thrush Natives

The flowers of common milkweed are a nectar source for butterflies, while the foliage serves as the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. This native perennial grows easily in average to poor soils and is drought tolerant. Some gardeners may consider its self-seeding and spreading habit too vigorous for manicured gardens, but it’s great for prairies, native plant gardens, and meadows or naturalized areas.

For more compact growth, try these instead:

  • Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed)
  • Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)
  • Asclepias purpurascens (purple milkweed)

Millenium Ornamental Onion

Allium Ornamental Onion PC Sugar Creek Gardens

Botanical Name: Allium ‘Millenium’ PC: Sugar Creek Gardens

Rose-purple flowers attract butterflies and honeybees in late summer when the garden is most in need of color. Attractive, shiny deep green foliage adds texture to the landscape. This flower tolerates a wide variety of soil types and conditions and is excellent for repelling deer and rabbits.

For diversity in bloom color and length, try these instead:

  • Allium ‘Summer Beauty’ (ornamental onion)
  • Allium thunbgergii ‘Ozawa’ (Japanese onion)
  • Allium cernuum (nodding onion, native)

Rose Glow Landmark™ Lantana

Landmark Rose Glow Lantana flower PC Ball Seed

Botanical Name: Lantana camara ‘Balandroglim’ PC: Ball Seed

Rose Glow Landmark™ lantana’s showy rose pink and yellow toned flowers attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. Fuzzy, scented leaves remain green throughout the season. Thrives in extreme heat, humidity and drought. Deer resistant.

For diversity in bloom color and size, try these instead:

  • Lantana ‘Lemon Cream’ Little Lucky
  • Lantana ‘White’ Lucky™
  • Lantana ‘Red’ Bloomify™

Burgundy Mirage™ Salvia

Mirage Burgundy Salvia flower PC Ball Seed

Botanical Name: Salvia greggii ‘Balmirbur’ PC: Ball Seed

Burgundy flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The Mirage™ series was bred to be heat tolerant, resulting in an early season and summer-long blooming plant.

For diversity in bloom color and size, try these instead:

  • Salvia ‘Ballerina Pink’ Fashionista® (perennial)
  • Salvia guaranitica ‘Amistad’
  • Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Bloom’
  • Salvia patens ‘Blue Angel’

Want to learn more about pollinators, plants they love and how you can help support them in your own living space with plants like these? Join us for Butterflies & Blooms this summer to discover all the ways you can be a pollinator champion! The exhibit is open daily from 10 am-5 pm through August 31.

You can already get started by joining the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and plant your own pollinator paradise with these simple garden designs made in partnership with the Wild Ones – Green Bay Chapter and Stone Silo Prairie Gardens. You can buy these plants at local nurseries like Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, too!


This article originally appeared in the 2019 Summer Newsletter as “Supporting our Pollinator Friends with Plants They Love.”