PUTNAM COUNTY, N.Y. -- When you think of pollinators, do bees immediately come to mind? How about beetles? They should, since they are the largest group of pollinators. How about flies? An unappreciated group, if there ever was one. Some ants, wasps and even certain species of mosquitos can provide pollination services.
The most adored pollinators may be butterflies and nectar-loving birds, like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird that captivates us with its tiny size and huge personality.
Of course, not all birds, beetles, flies, wasps, etc. are pollinators, but many are. Animal pollinators are responsible for pollinating at least 75% of all flowering plants and 1/3 of our food crops.
Pollinators are as varied as the plants that they pollinate. To create a healthy ecosystem in your landscape, plant for a broad array of pollinators using many different plants. Here is a guide to get you started:
Traits of Bee-Pollinated Plants
- Flower colors: bright white, yellow, blue, purple.
- Flower shapes: varied (based on bee species)
- Mild, fragrant odor.
- Examples of bee-pollinated plants: apples, cherries, blueberries, redbuds, lindens, hollies, milkweeds, sedums, asters, goldenrods.
Traits of Butterfly-Pollinated Plants
- Flower colors: usually bright; often red, orange, yellow, purple.
- Flower shapes: often have a wide landing pad.
- Slight fragrance.
- Examples of butterfly-pollinated plants: milkweeds, coneflowers, sunflowers, asters, blazing stars.
Traits of Moth-Pollinated Plants
- Flower colors: often pale, white or pink, dull red, purple.
- Flower shapes: often in clusters or have landing platforms.
- Often a strong and sweet odor present at night.
- Examples of moth-pollinated plants: morning glory, jasmine, primrose blazing stars, bee balm.
Traits of Bird-Pollinated Plants
- Flower colors: scarlet, red, orange, white.
- Flower shapes: usually large, funnel-shaped.
- No odor.
- Examples of bird-pollinated plants: coral honeysuckle, trumpet creeper, jewelweed, bee balm, cardinal flower.
Traits of Bat-Pollinated Plants
- Flower colors: often white or pale, green, purple.
- Flower shapes: often large and bell-shaped, usually open at night.
- Highly fragrant, fruity or fermenting odor.
- Examples of bat-pollinated plants: peaches, dates, figs, mangoes, bananas. Agave.
Traits of Beetle-Pollinated Plants
- Flower colors: often dull white, green.
- Flower shapes: often bowl-shaped.
- Usually a strong, fruity or fetid odor.
- Examples of beetle-pollinated plants: magnolias, pawpaw, Jack-in-the Pulpit, sweetshrub, goldenrods, asters.
Traits of Fly-Pollinated Plants
- Flower colors: often dark brown, purple or pale.
- Flower shapes: often funnel shape or complex.
- Putrid odor, rotting flesh smell.
- Certain types of flies, like hover flies, will be attracted to the same flowers as small bees.
- Examples of fly-pollinated plants: skunk cabbage, pawpaw, Dutchman’s pipe, red trillium, dogbane.
Some pollinators don’t always “follow the rules” and may use plants that are not supposed to be their favorites. Not to worry – plant diversely, plant native and you will support a wide variety of pollinators.
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial . When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.
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