Bees & Butterflies have been fascinating us for centuries, and for good reason. Industrious bees and butterflies with stained-glass looking wings are a delight in the garden!
As our garden center expands here at Shell’s, I’ll be talking a bit more about gardening as it relates to landscaping in the coming months, and highlighting some of the plants we carry (and possibly some that we don’t!). Please know that depending on when you’re reading this article, some plants may not be available.
Let’s talk about favorite pollinator plants, shall we?
Bee & Butterfly Plant #1: Pentas
Pentas, also known as Egyptian Stars, are lovely perennial (in much of Florida) leafy plants with beautiful clusters of star-shaped flowers that come in many colors of white, pink, red, and purple. Butterflies and bees both go nuts over them! We see (and hear) our favorite little insects buzzing and flitting about as we’re out working in the garden center, and it’s such a joy!
They don’t seem to have a favorite butterfly that they attract. We’ve seen Monarchs, Gulf Frittilaries, Southern Whites, Sulphurs, Zebra Longwings (the Florida State Butterfly!), Zebra Blues and Plumbago Blues, and more. You could say that they feed them all!
Now, these beautiful, nectar-full plants are not host plants, they are feeder plants. If you watch closely, you might even see hummingbirds attracted to your pentas!
For more information on Pentas, check out this article from UF IFAS.
Bee & Butterfly Plant #2: Milkweed
Milkweed seems to be a touchy subject with butterfly lovers these days. There are ongoing arguments about the effectiveness and also how tropical milkweed leads to the spread of OE (or not, depending on where you land in that argument).
I’ve stated where my extensive research has led me several times in our local garden groups, and I won’t talk about it directly here, but feel free to ask me about it if you like.
Milkweed is a host plant for Monarchs. Pretty much all types of milkweed will feed the gorgeous stripey caterpillar larvae of the Monarch.
Monarchs are losing the fight against extinction, and it’s important to feed the ones that are still with us and ensure their survival.
The caterpillars will eat your milkweed down to the bare stems. You should let them do so. Not only will it help your milkweed regenerate and regrow even stronger, it’s part of the milkweed’s cycle of life to be stripped bare and then regrow.
In fact, to help prevent the spread of the OE spores that sometimes make Monarchs sick, each Winter you should cut your milkweed down to the ground, mulch over the rootball, and then let it regrow. If you have multiple plants, cut half of your plants back initially, and then when those begin to regenerate, cut back the other half. That way there’s always at least some food for your Monarchs.
Milkweed flowers also have nectar for bees and butterflies, they just don’t flower a lot, which is why it’s important to have other sources of food for your pollinators adults.
Want to learn more? Try this article.
Bee & Butterfly Plant #3: Zinnias
Zinnias are, by far, one of my favorite flowers in general. The VAST variety of colors, petal styles, growth habits, and more are just fascinating, and frankly a bit intoxicating. Next to daisies, I think Zinnias rank in the Top 3 for Most Happy Flower In The Garden.
Zinnias are a nectar and pollen flower for pollinators. They are easy to grow, super heat tolerant, and they reseed themselves very easily, which is great for seed collectors, and for those of you who like to let their pollinator gardens run wild.
They are grown in most places as an annual, however, in Florida they often can survive the Winter and continue to grow the next year. Their seeds can also lay dormant until the soil is warm enough to sprout the following year.
The bright colors of the Zinnia make them a pollinator magnet, and also a great source of cut flowers for your arrangements. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with or have too many Zinnias in your garden.
Bee & Butterfly Plant #4: Salvia
Salvia is a gorgeous upright stalked plant with cascades of small beautiful flowers on each spike, surrounded by lush green leaves which are sometimes very textural and always visually appealing. They come in loads of colors ranging from whites, to pinks, to reds, to purples, and to blues.
Many hybrids have been created that highlight a contrast between the leaves and the flower stalks which are stunning as a specimen planting or porch pot. But often you see massive beds of shimmering small-flowered spikes that seem to just float up off the ground. Both are beautiful, and both are loved by our pollinators.
Salvia is a nectar plant for bees and butterflies. They feed the insects so that they can go about their business with plenty of energy for their tasks. Salvia are very much a no-fuss plant, and many varieties reseed themselves quite easily for all of you “benign neglect” gardeners such as myself. In fact, you’ll find salvia popping up in unexpected places. It makes me smile when that happens, as I marvel at the natural order of things.
Want to know more about Salvia? Here’s the article from UF IFAS.
Bee & Butterfly Plants #5: Firebush
The firebush is a perennial and semi-woody shrub with evergreen leaves that produce bright orange flowers. Those flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds, our larger bees Gulf Frittilaries, and Zebra Longwings.
Later in the year, these bushes produce berries that feed our songbirds (which are also becoming endangered at an alarming rate). Throughout the year, this plant has attractive foliage.
This very versatile plant makes a great border of shrubbery for your landscaping. You can of course use it along a sunny wall of your house, but you can also use it as a visual divider to create “rooms” in your landscape.
Want to know more about Firebush? Check out the article from the UF IFAS organization.
Butterfly & Bee Plant Honorable Mentions
The sole purpose of flowers is reproduction of the plant. Thus, nearly ALL plants have some sort of flower! I wanted to mention a few other plants that I think are essential in a pollinator garden.
Parsley, Dill, & Fennel – These three herbs are host to the Black Swallowtail butterfly! Also, the flowers feed the bees, so let some of your herbs go to seed, and when you see the colorful caterpillars, enjoy the show!
Blanketflower – a Florida Native Wildflower, the Blanketflower is a bee magnet. The fluffy flower centers are a giant nectar and pollen repository! In our garden center, the bees are usually very active on our blanketflowers!
French Marigolds – despite information on the internet to the contrary, we find bees and butterflies all over our French Marigolds. Perhaps it’s because it’s a convenient place to perch and rest, or maybe because the blooms hold some water after a good rain. Or maybe it really does have beneficial pollen and nectar for our pollinators. Next time you see one, ask for me. 🙂
There are MANY other flowers that attract, feed, and host our pollinators. Do a little research and grow some beautiful flowers that help our bees and butterflies and other pollinators!
Here’s some more information for you, in case you didn’t get enough!
I hope you enjoyed this article, and until next time,