Encouraging pollinators in our gardens is one of the most important things we can do as gardeners. The best way to promote and help rebuild native butterfly, bee, hummingbird, and beneficial insect populations is to plant native perennials that they can use as food and shelter. There are so many native perennials to choose from that it can be pretty overwhelming. These are some of our favorite perennial flowers to attract a wide variety of native bees, birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
While the name isn't the most flattering, Butterfly Weed is a highly beneficial, gorgeous perennial. It is a type of milkweed and is loved by many butterflies, particularly the Monarch Butterfly. Every spring, this native perennial bursts into color with spectacularly colored little orange flowers. Monarch butterflies rely on it for nectar, but more importantly, this is the plant they use to lay their eggs. Butterfly Weed is hardy, grows well in zones 4-9, and is an essential element of any pollinator garden. Don't confuse Butterfly Weed with Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), which is a non-native perennial that has become invasive in many areas.
Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
Blazing Star plants light up the garden with its tall stalks lined with vibrant purple flowers. This showy perennial attracts bees, birds, butterflies, and the attention of any who sees it. Blazing Star loves a spot in full sunlight, where it can shine the brightest. The flowers form from the top of the spike down, unlike most flowers which bloom the other way around. If you're looking for a native perennial that will cause a spectacle, Blazing Star is the one. The classic bloom color is purple, but now there are varieties with white, pink, or red flowers.
Bee Balm/Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
The pale purple and deliciously fragrant flowers of Bee Balm burst into bloom like a bunch of summer fireworks. As if their beauty alone isn't enough, Bee Balm also attracts hordes of butterflies, native bees, and hummingbirds. It is always busy around the Bee Balm plants in the summer; plant it near your porch or deck for the best summertime entertainment. Bee Balm is tolerant of all types of soil, easy to maintain, adaptable, and carefree. It will spread, so keep an eye on it or plant it in a large pot. When in bloom, the flowers are so prolific, they turn the space into an ocean of color. Traditionally Bee Balm flowers are purple, but it is also available in pink, red, and white blooms.
Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium Superbum)
There is nothing I could say to describe how stunning this flower is when in bloom. Truly, the only way to know yourself is to plant some and bask in their grace. Native Turk's Cap Lily draws in butterflies and hummingbirds with its profuse and spectacularly colored orange speckled flowers. Each Turk's Cap plant will produce up to 40 flowers each season once it gets established. The extraordinarily tall flower spikes are especially attractive to Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies.
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
As the name suggests, Creeping Phlox grows low to the ground and spreads quickly. When in bloom, the earth looks like a carpet of beautiful, star-shaped flowers. Even when not in bloom, Creeping Phlox is attractive with grass-like evergreen foliage. Creeping Phlox is especially wonderful planted between tall flowers, shrubs, or allowed to cascade over a rock wall. It grows well in pots or hanging baskets, too. This native perennial is drought and heat-tolerant, adaptable, and grows in places where many other flowers struggle. Bees and butterflies appreciate the sweet blooms, and as a bonus, deer widely ignore them. There is a wide range of color options, including purple, white, blue, and pink.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
The multitudes of light-purple flowers atop tall stems are irresistible to butterflies and bees. In the fall, songbirds feast on the plentiful seeds, especially the goldfinches who can't seem to get enough. Purple Coneflower, sometimes better known by its botanical name Echinacea, is perfect for the perennial wildflower garden. This native flower blooms multitudes of large daisy-like flowers with a protruding cone-shaped center, hence the name. Purple Coneflower blooms for months, providing bright, much-appreciated color to the flower garden. Echinacea is easy to grow, hardy to zones 3-9, and is an excellent cut flower because of the long stems. Several other native Echinaceas are great in the native perennial garden, including E.angustifolia, E.pallida, and E. paradoxa, and E. pallida.
Asters (Aster novii-belgii)
The clusters of brightly colored daisy-like flowers with deep golden centers attract bees, butterflies, and birds in droves. Asters are a late-blooming perennial, and they provide a valuable food source to pollinators when there aren't many choices. These flowers are available in various colors, from blue to purple to white to pink. Aster varieties number in the hundreds, with many cultivars added to that. Many Asters are native to North America, but be sure to double-check beforehand. The brilliant colors liven up the perennial fall garden; we recommend planting them wherever you have space!
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
One of the most delightful spring bloomers, Virginia Bluebells are an essential part of any perennial garden. The native pollinators agree and will visit it frequently, increasing the appeal of the flower. Each plant produces dreamy clusters of small blue bell-shaped flowers, which nod delightfully in the spring breeze. Virginia Bluebells are adaptable and will grow in full sun or shade.
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
Don't let the name deter you; you'll be sneezing with delight, we promise. Sneezeweed flowers are bright yellow and look like miniature sunflowers. A mass planting of this native perennial is like having a hundred shining suns in the garden. Sneezeweed blooms late in the season and is a valuable food source for native and honey bees. The odd name comes from its use historically; Sneezeweed leaves were dried and used to make a type of snuff.
Planting for native pollinating species is easy to do with all these beautiful and interesting flower options. No matter what type of flower bed you have, add a few plants for the pollinators, and you'll be blessed with a wide variety of exciting visitors to the garden.