What do butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees have in common? And why would we want to attract them to our gardens? A large group of species known as “pollinators,” which includes various insects, birds and other wildlife, is unrelated except through their important ecological role of pollinating most flowering plants and trees. This role is critical to human life because an estimated one-third of our food supply, as well as some of our fibers and medicines, depends on these pollinators.
So how can we help these creatures so they can continue to help us? We can make our gardens – large or small, urban, suburban or rural – good sources of food and shelter for pollinators. In return, we can see and literally taste the fruits of their labor, enjoy the pure delight of watching them and know that we are protecting our local ecosystems.
BUTTERFLIES General requirements for butterflies are plants for their caterpillars to feed on and large clumps of small, sun-loving flowers to provide nectar for adults. Just a few of these include zinnias, marigolds, butterfly bush (naturally), verbenas and most herbs (if they are allowed to go to flower). Milkweed is a food source for monarchs and other butterflies, and is the sole food source for monarch caterpillars. While monarchs have a very restricted food source, eastern tiger swallowtails feed on tulip trees and lilacs, among a number of trees and bushes.
BEES Hundreds of flowering species attract bees, especially purple and blue ones, but don’t overlook such humble flowers as the dandelion and clover, which thrive and blossom with no work on our part! As for stinging, which only females can do, most bee species aren’t aggressive and generally ignore humans.
HUMMINGBIRDS Hummingbirds visit flowers in both sun and shade, and while they are certainly attracted to tubular red flowers, they feed on other types as well – butterfly bush (buddleia) is a magnet for hummingbirds. Besides flowering plants, hummingbirds, like many birds, need shrubs or trees with dense foliage to provide shelter from predators and places for nesting and perching; they also need a source of water.
The ABCs of attracting butterflies, bees and hummingbirds
The list of plants that can help attract pollinators like butterflies, bees and hummingbirds, includes dozens of species…you might say they span the alphabetical gamut from A to Z. Following are just a few of the many flowering plants, bushes, trees and vines (that can be grown in Mississippi), which can attract these beneficial and beautiful pollinators.
Althea, Aster, Azaleas, Bee Balm, Begonia, Black-Eyed Susan, Butterfly bush, Canna, Cardinal flower, Chrysanthemum, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Dahlia, Dianthus, Flowering quince, Fushia, Geranium, Goldenrod, Honeysuckle, Impatiens, Jasmine, Joe Pye Weed, Lantana, Lilacs, Lily, Marigolds, Milkweed, Morning glory, Nasturtium, Pansy, Petunia, Phlox, Purple Coneflower, Queen Anne’s Lace, Russian Sage, Salvia, Sedum (Autumn Joy), Trumpet creeper, Tulip Trees, Verbena, Weigela, Yucca, Zinnia
dig deeper Butterflies: At Home in the Earth Lady’s Garden By Margaret Gratz Want to learn even more about the myriad of butterfly species that grace Mississippi gardens? Check out the new book released last fall by Margaret Gratz of Tupelo, Butterflies: At Home in the Earth Lady’s Garden. It’s not only filled with great information about our fluttering friends, but it features striking photographs of butterflies Mrs. Gratz shot in her Tupelo garden. Already an accomplished artist and wordsmith, in this new release, she illustrates her considerable talent for photography.