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Regional Plants Attract Regional Pollinators

rose milkweed with honey bee
Native flowers like this rose milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, support local pollinators.

By Kimberly Toscano, gardening expert, landscape designer and writer.

While the collapse of European honeybees has garnered much attention, hundreds of lesser-known bee species buzz through your backyard unaware of the surmounting crisis. However, these species face other risks, mainly the loss of their habitat.

The same is true of local butterflies and moths, beetles and flower flies, even ants and wasps – all of which are important pollinators. Healthy plant communities, including our gardens, are dependent upon thriving pollinator populations. With declines in native habitat across the country, pollinators need our help!

By planting species native to your region in your garden, you can provide essential resources to feed, nourish, and host local pollinators, to help their populations grow.

The emphasis on “regional” plants and pollinators is an important one. Just as plants have adapted to specific climates and habitats, so have pollinators.

The insect-buzzing flowers in Virginia are different than those gracing gardens in Texas. So, our efforts to support pollinators must reflect the regional populations of both native insects and the host plants they depend upon.

queen butterfly
Widespread species like this Queen Butterfly, make use of different host plants throughout their range.
color block garden
Planting in blocks of color is a great way to attract pollinators to the garden.
native pollinator plants
Natural areas offer insight into local plant-pollinator associations.

Regional Plants and Pollinators Form Communities

Nature is full of wonders. Throughout the course of history, species sharing similar habitats have formed communities which, through ages of ecological adaptation, have grown to be interdependent. Plants and insects in those communities have developed intricate relationships through the process of co-evolution, which has led to an important result:

Certain insect species (as well as birds and other wildlife) rely on specific plants to provide nourishment and rear their young. Plants, in turn, are dependent upon specific pollinators to fertilize their flowers.

Physical characteristics of both plant and insect have adapted over millennia as a result of co-evolution. Consider the tubular shape of daylily flowers, Hemerocallis species, and the long proboscis of swallowtail butterflies that pollinate the blooms. Plants pollinated by bees, on the other hand have numerous small nectaries easily reached by short-tongued pollinators. A bumblebee’s hairs are designed to capture pollen and transport it to another flower, for which the bee is rewarded with nectar. Such adaptations abound in the world of plants and pollinators.

In some cases, the relationship between flower and pollinator are so specific that a single species of insect is solely responsible for a plant’s pollination. The highly specialized association between figs, Ficus species and their fig wasp pollinators, Family Agaonidae, is a good example. Likewise, some insects rear their young on a single plant species or genus. The pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is the only known host plant of the zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus.

Most plant-pollinator relationships are more generalized. Goldenrods, Solidago species, are covered in pollinators including solitary wasps, fireflies, and soldier beetles. Goldenrod also hosts a great diversity of bees: seven species of mining bees, Andrena species, the polyester bee, Colletes simulans armatus, the long-horned bee Melissodes druriella, the eight-spotted Perdita, Perdita octomaculata and the goldenrod cellophane bee, Colletes solidaginis. Not bad for one plant.

fig plant
Some plant-pollinator associations are highly specific like that between figs, Ficus species, and fig wasp pollinators, Family Agaonidae.

Native Regional Wildflower Seed Mixes

Planting a Regional Pollinator Garden

Some species like goldenrod and spring azure butterflies, Celastrina ladon, are found in many areas across the country, while other plant and insect populations are limited geographically. However, even widespread insect species may utilize different host plants throughout their range. This brings us back to the concept of “regional” pollinator gardens.

Focusing on localized plant-pollinator relationships ensures gardeners are providing the resources that pollinators utilize in their little corner of the world.

A regional focus also supports species with localized distributions, which are often more vulnerable to habitat loss.

So how do you identify appropriate native plants to attract pollinators to the landscape? The non-profit Xerxes Society is an excellent resource, providing regional lists of pollinator plants and associated insects. Another option is to take a walk. Trekking nature trails in your area will reveal plants swarming with life. These are the local plants favored by local pollinators.

Carry a plant guide and make note of the plants you see covered in pollinators. These will vary throughout the year. If you are unable to identify the plants take a photo and seek the assistance of an area native plant society.

Country roads and vacant lots are also good places to study native plants, but these areas also harbor plenty of non-natives. Look for the pollinators to guide your search.

While you might be tempted to dig plants or collect seed from wild populations, resist the urge. Once you have determined which species to add to the garden, locate seed from a reliable commercial source like American Meadows, leaving natural populations intact.

About the Author: Kimberly Toscano blends her formal training in horticulture and entomology with her passion for design to educate and inspire gardeners. Learn more at

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