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Flowers for the Bees, Birds, and Butterflies

Flowers for the Bees, Birds, and Butterflies

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees… oh, and the butterflies, too! You don’t need to have a large or expensive garden to attract pollinators to your garden; in fact, birds, bees, and butterflies love what some of us consider weeds. The key to attracting birds, bees, and butterflies is to plant a wide variety of flowering annuals, perennials, and shrubs that are rich in nectar and that bloom at different times so there is always food available. It is also important to curtail use of pesticides and to provide shelter and water in your garden. One way to provide food and shelter is to leave seed heads and dead foliage standing on plants, especially over the winter – this is great news to me, since it means I don’t have to tidy up my garden! Here are a few of my favorite flowers for attracting birds, bees, and butterflies.

Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea


Photo via e_chaya (Flickr)

I have always thought that there was something magical about foxglove, and I am not the only one; bumblebees think so, too! Foxglove has evolved to attract bumblebees with its purple color, height, shape of the flowers, and long flowering time. Hummingbirds are also attracted to the brightly colored, tube-shaped flowers. Foxglove is actually a biennial plant, which means that it does not bloom until the second year, and then it dies. However, because it reseeds itself, most people think it is a perennial. All parts of this flower are poisonous, but strangely enough, the same poison in the right amount is used to treat heart problems.

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed

Photo via Dendroica cerulea (Flickr)

Butterfly weed is a species of milkweed native to eastern North America. The clusters of small yellow-to-orange flowers hold lots of nectar, making them irresistible to hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. The larvae of queen and monarch butterflies feast on butterfly weed; in fact, monarch butterfly larvae only eat milkweed. Butterfly weed needs well-drained soil and full sun to thrive – and little else. It is even deer-resistant and drought-tolerant!

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea

Purple Coneflower

Photo via Wilfrank Paypa (Flickr)

In my opinion, coneflower is the perfect flower. I don’t think there is a more useful or less fussy flower than this one, and it is beautiful to boot! If you give this native perennial well-drained soil and full sun, it will bloom throughout summer and attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies; if you leave the seed heads, coneflower will attract goldfinches. Coneflower, or echinacea, is also a popular herbal medicine for boosting the immune system. Coneflowers are also available in red, orange, white, yellow, and pink.

Goldenrod, Solidago species


Photo via John Frisch (Flickr)

Most people consider goldenrod a weed, but to insects and birds, it is royalty. You can find this yellow flower growing in meadows and along the roadside, and it is a host to all kinds of wildlife. Goldenrod is easy to grow and attracts pine siskins in addition to insects and butterflies. It is also important to remember that birds feed their babies insects, and any plant that attracts insects will attract and benefit birds.

Serviceberry, Amelanchier species


Photo via William Klos (Flickr)

I don’t usually mention trees and shrubs, but serviceberry deserves mention. This large shrub or small tree provides year round interest to humans and provides food for wildlife. In early spring, fragrant white blossoms appear; in summer, purple berries provide an important food source for a wide variety of birds and other animals; in fall, the leaves turn beautiful colors. All kinds of birds love serviceberry, especially cardinals, robins, and cedar waxwings.


Sunflower with Bees

Photo via Sue Reynolds (Flickr)

The sunflower is another flower that is as useful as it is beautiful. Sunflower oil and seeds are important for both humans and wildlife. Goldfinches especially love sunflower seeds; leave seed heads if you want to provide a winter food source for wildlife. “Giganteus” is a feast for birds, with a seed head a foot across, while “Lemon Queen” is known to be very attractive to bees and is small enough to grow in containers.

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