Sunday, June 26, 2011

Plant One for the Pollinators

Today is the last day of the officially designated Pollinator Week.   That's right, a whole week just for bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles, flies, birds, and bats!  I hope they know we're out here rooting for them, but if they don't, here's the skinny on what this week is all about, courtesy of

Five years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of the final week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.  Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The growing concern for pollinators is a sign of progress, but it is vital that we continue to maximize our collective effort.  The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture signs the proclamation every year. Pollinating animals, including bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and others, are vital to our delicate ecosystem, supporting terrestrial wildlife, providing healthy watershed, and more. Therefore, Pollinator Week is a week to get the importance of pollinators’ message out to as many people as possible.

I see at least 3 pollinators on this Passiflora incarnata

So, here I am, trying to get the message out to you.  My message is simply this: think about what you plant and how that might support pollinators.  Choose plants that have dense clusters of flowers and stamens that offer pollinators what they need: pollen and nectar.

Of course providing plants is not the only way to support pollinators – they need nest sites (open ground and dead trees for some), a source of water, shelter, host plants (for butterflies), and an environment free of pesticides if possible.  Here is an excellent regional resource to give you more of the details.  A post like mine serves only to spark your interest in learning more about these essential creatures.

Still I like to talk about plants, so let’s cover a bit more of that.  Different pollinators are attracted to different types of plants (according to color, scent, amount of pollen or nectar) so planting a wide variety is a good idea.  Planning for a succession of blooms throughout the year is also helpful.  Consider the quality of the flower itself as well.  Plants with many sterile flowers produce less pollen than those with fertile flowers.  For example, the showy blooms of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ are composed of mostly sterile flowers.  By contrast, the blooms of the species plant, Hydrangea arborescens, contain virtually all fertile flowers.

Fertile flowers of Hydrangea arborescens
Sterile flowers of 'Annabelle'

What may appear to be a single flower (like Silphium and Helianthus) is actually an "inflorescence" composed of many flowers . Ray flowers (what we think of as the petals) may be fertile or sterile; they surround many fertile “disk” flowers. That is a very brief explanation, but the point is that what you see below is not "one" flower.

Inner fertile flowers (not all yet open)
surrounded by showy ray flowers (Silphium)

Here are some the plants in my own yard that have especially floriferous blooms throughout the seasons.

Spring trees and shrubs: Viburnum, Fothergilla, native cherries and plums (Prunus spp.), shrub dogwoods (like Cornus alternifolia), blueberries (Vaccinium), Decumaria barbara (a vine), buckeyes (Aesculus spp.) – a hummingbird favorite.

Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides
Prunus serotina

Spring perennials: Galax (Galax urceolata), Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum), Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera).

Chrysogonum virginianum
Stellaria pubera

Late spring/Summer trees and shrubs: Hydrangea, Clethra (Summersweet), Hypericum (St. John's Wort), Elderberry (Sambucus), Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum).

Hypericum densiflorum
Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

Late spring/summer perennials: Mountain mint (like Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), Agastache (Hyssop), Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Silphium, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), Coneflower (Echinacea), Angelica, Stoke's Aster (Stokesia laevis).

Agastache foeniculum

Angelica venenosa

Georgia aster, Symphyotrichum georgianum

Fall perennials: Helianthus, Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), asters, Joe pye weed (Eupatorium spp.), Ironweed (Vernonia), White snakeroot (Ageratina), Liatris.

If you like to support birds, some of these plants to do double duty: Black cherry (Prunus serotina) can be a host plant for over 400 species of moths and butterflies plus it has berries, Sunflowers (Helianthus) and Silphiums have seeds that birds eat, and Viburnums and shrub Dogwoods (Cornus) also produce berries.

And despite the title of my post, I hope you will plant not just one thing for pollinators, but two or three or more!


Look at the guide for North Georgia (Southeast Mixed Forest) provided by

See my previous blog where I reviewed the book “Attracting Native Pollinators”.


  1. Very informative - and useful, article! Thanks for educating us on all the ways we can help Mother Nature!

  2. Hi Ellen,
    Great examples of fertile vs non fertile flowers. I love the natives that attract a huge diversity of insect species. It's a great reminder to get out there and take a closer look.

  3. Are you plagued with tiny little insects we call pollen beetles, which swamp most flowers in the garden for months, and make it impossible to cut blooms for indoor use?
    It started with Sweet Peas some years back, but now they help themselves to anything around. a bit of a nuisance but maybe they are taking over from the dwindling numbers of bees.

  4. I do have some beetles, several different kinds, but they don't seem excessive. But you have a point, they may be increasing in numbers to take up for the decline of something else.