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Favorite Pollinator Plants

By Martha Kirk, Colorado Master Gardener

Over 50 species of plants were installed at the Lima Plaza Pollinator Garden. All are important, but I have a few favorites. The perennials featured below are easy to tuck into a garden as you transition to a more native or native-adapted landscape. Plant them in groups of three or more for visual impact and to allow pollinators to work the area more efficiently.

Purple Prairie Clover
Photo: minnesotawildflowers.info

Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) makes a wonderful addition to any sunny garden. This native summer blooming perennial is not particular about soil, it grows in average to dry conditions and is a survivor because it is tap-rooted. Best of all, it blooms in the most unusual way – bottom to top. It is a delight to watch pollinators as they move around and around circling the attractive flowers to gather pollen.

Purple Prairie Clover is in the legume family, so it takes nitrogen from the air within the soil and stores it in the plant. It is often used in seed mixes for prairie restoration because of its nitrogen fixation properties. It is a favorite of over 50 species of bees including bumble bees, honey bees and “specialist bees” in the genus Colletes. Specialist bees require pollen from specific plants to raise their young. This is a great example of the intrinsic connection between insect and plant where one relies on the other for survival.

Try Purple Prairie Clover in your garden. You won’t be disappointed. Oh, and did I mention it is deer and rabbit resistant?

Firecracker Penstemon
Photo: monrovia.com

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) is one of the early spring blooming perennials that supports migrating hummingbirds when food is scarce. It is easy to grow, drought tolerant, can go in full sun or part shade and is native to the western US. Overwatering can shorten its lifespan. The sturdy foliage is nice too. Many xeric plants have fine foliage; Firecracker Penstemon has bigger leaves that provide a nice contrast in texture. Although relatively short-lived, this penstemon is worth planting. You will be rewarded with brilliant red flowers that provide abundant nectar for visiting hummingbirds. What’s not to like?

Desert 4-O’Clock
Photo: plantsofthesouthwest.com

Desert 4-O’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora) is a stunning native plant. The sheer size is quite astonishing; it can spread up to four to six feet. This is handy when you want to fill a space. The color is equally astonishing—vibrant magenta-pink—and looks rather tropical.

Desert 4-O’Clock is a long-lived and undemanding perennial that needs full sun to part shade, dry conditions and can go in any type of soil. The flowers open in late afternoon so be sure to watch for the many pollinators it will attract including the Sphinx moth, hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Save some space in the garden for this beauty.

One Response on “Favorite Pollinator Plants

  1. Tayleah says:

    Thank you for the lovely article! There are so many options for pollinators, this was a welcome Colorado relevant highlight. Much appreciated!!

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