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Meet the Pollinators

⟩Bees
⟩Hummingbirds
⟩Butterflies
⟩Other pollinators

Bees & bee behavior

bumblebee
Bees are our most important pollinators. Most are solitary bees that live independently, not the bumble or honey bees we are more familiar with. Bees visit flowers for the pollen or nectar, which supply the nutrients they need. Bees rub against the stamens while feeding and get pollen all over themselves. When the pollen-covered bee brushes the stigma, pollination occurs. Many bees practice flower constancy. They will visit the same flower type when foraging, even though a different kind of flower might be closer by.

Bee-friendly gardening is simple to do:

PLANT LIST: > PLANTS THAT ATTRACT BEES

Large swaths of one single plant type are most attractive to bees for ease of foraging.

Provide pollen AND nectar. 
Plant flowers that provide BOTH pollen and nectar for bees.
Plant a continuously blooming garden. Select flowers that will provide successive blooms in spring, summer, and fall. 

Variety attracts diversity. Choose ten or more bee attractive flower species for a diversity of bee visitors.

They love sunlight. Bees prefer to visit flowers in the sun.
Leave some ground bare. The majority of bees nest in the ground, so leave areas of your garden bare of
mulch or weed cloth. 
Please, no chemicals. Avoid plants treated with neonicotinoids. Do not use broad-spectrum pesticides.

 

Hummingbirds: nature's extremists

hummer
Hummingbirds are the primary bird pollinators in the United States. They only exist in the western hemisphere. Hummingbirds can hover in place, fly forward, upside down, or sideways. It is the only bird that can fly backward. To maintain their flurry of activity, hummingbirds must eat regularly and heavily. They feed every ten minutes, consuming half to eight times their weight every day.

When a hummingbird feeds, pollen from the anthers sticks to the bird and adheres to the stigma when it licks nectar. One hummingbird licks the nectar of around 1,000 flowers every day with its forked tongue. Despite their petite size, hummingbirds are aggressive. They will attack large birds that infringe on their territory. 

The western white-winged dove is the only other bird pollinator in the continental United States. The doves visit flowering saguaros for nectar and carry large pollen loads from flower to flower.

How to attract hummingbirds into your garden:

PLANT LIST: > PLANTS THAT ATTRACT HUMMINGBIRDS

Bright colors. Hummingbirds prefer tubular flowers with bright colors, particularly red, yellow, and orange. 
Scent doesn't matter. Flowers visited by hummingbirds have mild odors or no scent at all. Hummingbirds have no sense of smell.
Aim for flowers year-round. Use native plants where possible or a combination of native and non-native plants. 
No pesticides, please. Insects provide protein for hummingbirds, so do not use pesticides in your garden.
Nectar is sugar water. You can make your own—mix ¼ cup of sugar to one cup of water. Remember to keep your hummingbird feeder filled. 

 

Butterflies: a metamorphosis

Butterflies need nectar flowers and host plants for caterpillars to feed on. Photo: J Alosi
Butterflies need nectar flowers and host plants for caterpillars to feed on. Photo: J Alosi
Butterflies and moths are important because they are pollinators and because their caterpillars are food for baby birds. Without caterpillars, the bird population would plummet.

Adult butterflies feed on nectar. Pollen sticks to the butterfly’s tubular mouthpart and rubs off on a flower's stigma as the butterfly feeds. This is how butterflies pollinate. An adult butterfly lays its eggs on plants. The eggs develop into larva. We call the larva caterpillars. Caterpillars feed on host plants until they are ready to pupate. They form a chrysalis and then emerge as adult butterflies. This process is called metamorphosis.

Encourage butterfly visits to your garden with some simple steps:

PLANT LIST: > PLANTS THAT ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES

Part of having butterflies in your garden is welcoming them in the caterpillar stage when they are eating your plants. Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Part of having butterflies in your garden is welcoming them in the caterpillar stage when they are eating your plants. Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Learn which plants are hosts for the larvae (caterpillars) of a given species and plant them in your garden. For example, milkweed is a host plant for larvae of the monarch butterfly; California Dutchman's pipe is a host plant for larvae of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly.
Mass plantings. Plant nectar flowers in large swaths of the same plant type.
Flat-topped flowers preferred. Butterflies prefer flat-topped flowers they can land on while they feed.
More than nectar. Butterflies need resources other than nectar. Leave moist animal droppings or overripe fruit in the garden.
Water source. Butterflies cannot drink from open water. Leave a pan of wet sand under a dripping faucet or place rocks in your water source so they can sip.
Provide caterpillar nurseries. Plant larval host plants. These plants are essential to the butterfly life cycle. Some caterpillars need a specific plant. Monarchs need our native milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis (narrowleaf milkweed) or Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed). Important: Do NOT plant non-native milkweed. It makes monarchs more vulnerable to predators, among other reasons, including interrupting their migration cycle.
Provide rest spots. Large rocks in open areas provide a resting place for butterflies in the sun but out of the wind.
Please, no pesticides. Avoid using pesticides. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) targets caterpillars.
Get to know our native beauties. There are more than 1,300 butterflie species native to California. Visit Calscape.org to learn which are native to your zip code, and which plants they need.

 

 

Other desirable pollinators

Welcome all pollinators into your garden.

Beetles

Beetles pollinate while they eat flowers. That's why magnolia petals are so thick.  Photo: Jack Kelly
Beetles pollinate while they eat flowers. That's why magnolia petals are so thick. Photo: Jack Kelly

Beetles were the first pollinators. They are especially important pollinators for ancient species such as magnolias.
Wasps

Most wasps are smooth, so they do not transfer much pollen.  Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Most wasps are smooth, so they do not transfer much pollen. Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey

Wasps provide some incidental pollination. Fig wasps carry pollen into some figs because the flower is inside the immature fruit.
Flies

Syrphid or hoverflies are pollinators often mistaken for bees.  Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Syrphid or hoverflies are pollinators often mistaken for bees. Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey

Flies visit flowers to sip on the nectar. Carrying pollen from one flower to the next is incidental. Thank flies for chocolate. They are the primary pollinators of cacao.
Bats

Bats are furry nectar lovers.  Photo: Steve Buchmann
Bats are furry nectar lovers. Photo: Steve Buchmann

Bats are the best-known mammal pollinators. Bats seek pale night-blooming flowers with a fruity smell. 
Moths

Moths are day and evening pollinators. Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Moths are day and evening pollinators. Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey

Pollinating moths like night-blooming pale or white flowers. Strong fragrance and lots of nectar are ideal. Not all moth pollinators are nocturnal; some moths are also active by day.

 

Learn more about biological control and natural enemies.