Best Native Plants for Attracting and Supporting Pollinators Across Different U.S. Regions

Best Native Plants for Attracting and Supporting Pollinators Across Different U.S. Regions

January 8, 2024

With insect populations plummeting and essential pollinators under severe threat from habitat loss and pesticides, planting pollinator-friendly habitats is one meaningful way we can counteract these alarming declines. Introducing diverse, regional native plants specifically tailored to nurture vital pollinator species is key. But with eco-regions across the United States all boasting unique climate and habitat types, what are the best native plants for boosting pollinators in your area? From the dry desert Southwest mountains to the lush woodlands of the Northeast to the vast Midwest grasslands and beyond, key native plants stand out as pollinator powerhouses across America’s diverse landscapes.

Southwest Mountains & Desert

The rugged mountains and arid basins of the inland Southwest harbor a remarkable diversity of uniquely-adapted native flowers, shrubs and trees that nourish vulnerable pollinators. Hardy desert species like brittlebush, Apache plume, banana yucca, cliffrose, desert willow and Palmer’s penstemon thrive in dry rocky soils with minimal water needs once established. Their spectacular spring wildflower displays provide a boon of pollen and nectar for native bees, butterflies like Gulf Fritillaries, hummingbird species from Broad-tailed to Rufous, nectar-drinking bats and more against the region’s starkly beautiful backdrops.

Many later-blooming Southwest mountain species are also pollinator powerhouses. Showy goldeneye, a statuesque yellow-flowered native perennial, draws in hungry migrating butterflies and hummingbirds in high summer with its copious nectar. Sky islands and forested canyon habitats burst with flowers of mountain mahogany, silverleaf oak, Palmer’s agave, scarlet gilia and firecracker penstemon nourishing localized pollinators. Wherever you garden across Southwestern altitudes and ecosystems, these hardy native plants specially equipped to nourish the region’s vulnerable pollinators are vital additions.

BEST NATIVE PLANTS FOR ATTRACTING AND SUPPORTING POLLINATORS ACROSS DIFFERENT U.S. REGIONS

Midwest Grasslands

Once blanketed in vast terrain of tallgrass prairie, wet meadows and oak savanna, the Midwest still boasts an impressive diversity of hardy native wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs specifically evolved to feed and foster Midwestern pollinators. Many declining butterflies like Monarchs and Regal Fritillaries rely solely on iconic prairie milkweeds, blazing stars, asters, and wild bergamot to complete their complex life cycles. Showy echinacea, black-eyed susans, mountain mint, songbird-pleasing sumacs and elderberry also deliver nourishing habitat for Midwestern bees and other beneficial insects.

The Midwest’s majestic oak species like Shumard, bur and white oak provide crucial habitats for now-threatened pollinator species as well, hosting hundreds of native lepidoptera species while also supplying winter food stores in their heavy crops of protein and fat-rich acorns and nuts. Whether planning backyard butterfly gardens, larger meadow and woodland restorations, living roofs or roadside plantings, integrating these hardy native Midwestern plants specifically evolved to nourish the area’s vulnerable pollinators into landscapes across the Heartland is key to survival for many species.

Northeast Forests & Wetlands

From acidic oak-dominated forests to sprawling maple-beech woodlands to Atlantic coastal ecosystems, the Northeast boasts enormously biodiverse native plant communities sheltering and feeding many localized pollinator species. Ruby-throated hummingbirds alight on brilliant native cardinal flowers blooming along Eastern forest wetland edges, while clearwing moths employ vibrational camouflage to pollinate unique turtleheads flowering under dense woody canopies.

Later in summer, a suite of goldenrods, asters, ironweeds and Joe-Pye weed far taller than their Midwestern counterparts form a bonanza of color and vital late-season nutrition for migrating Monarchs in meadows and lawns. And even as winter’s chill descends upon the Northeast’s rich mosaic of habitats, Native witch hazel still bursts into charming fragrant yellow blooms, supplying crucial last sustenance to any still-active pollinators before seasonal dormancy in this biologically-abundant region of the country.

West Coast Chaparral & Forests

The iconic extreme biodiversity of the Pacific states nurtures equally diverse pollinator species spanning montane to coastal ecosystems. Moist, nutrient-rich forest floors from inland rainforests to Big Sur’s iconic redwood groves burst with carpets of blooming trillium, checkerbloom, trail ginger and bleeding hearts forming essential spring foraging grounds for native ground and twig-nesting bees. Cascading lupines, wild buckwheats, phacelias, tidy tips and clarkias coat Pacific Northwest meadows in vivid spring bee buffets.

The rich mosaic of mixed evergreen forests, rugged mountains and alluvial valleys continuing south along the Pacific coast fosters its own signature ecosystems and pollinator relationships. Mulefat, flowering currants and wild mock orange supply crucial early season nutrition to hummingbird and butterfly species that enliven oak woodlands and canyon shade gardens. And extensive late summer and fall wildflower blooms of tidy tips, gumplant, California fuchsia, western goldenrod and coyote mint sustain resident bees between periods of seasonal drought in California’s iconic chaparral communities.

Gulf Coast & Southeast Wetlands

While dominated by imposing evergreen and deciduous hardwood forests, the Southeastern coastal plain also harbors tremendously biodiverse aquatic ecosystems in expansive wetlands, bayous and marshlands. Here, golden club, blue-flag irises and native hibiscuses burst forth from saturated soils and aquatic margins of iconic Southeastern swamps, nourishing diverse native bees and tropical stray visitor species specialized to take advantage of these brief seasonal blooms.

Further inland, showy partridge pea, rattlebox mallows, wild blue indigo and more bring vibrant color to open pinelands still rich in hungry butterflies and ground-foraging native bees that enliven forests and yards in this mossy, humid region. And herbs and vines like blue mistflower, passionflower and native honeysuckle provide further sustenance for both Creole cottontail and swallowtail butterflies while perfuming sultry Southern air.

The floristic diversity of the American landscape is truly astounding. And in every corner of the country, specialized endemic plants stand ready to nourish the native pollinators who rely on them. By transforming lawns and degraded outplantings into pollinator habitat showcasing each area’s characteristic native blooms, we help sustain biodiversity, ecosystem health and natural beauty alike – from redwood forest to Gulf wetland.

Northern Plains & Prairie Pothole Wetlands

The expansive grasslands, meadows and wetlands of America’s Northern Plains comprise some of the most threatened yet vitally important wildlife habitats on the continent. Areas like the iconic short and mixed grass prairies remain strongholds for iconic species from bison to black-footed ferrets that represent the West’s traditional ranching cultures and wildlife.

In these habitats, low-growing hardy wildflowers and grasses specially adapted to extreme temperature swings have coevolved to support hardy native pollinators. Intensely fragrant purple prairie clovers, showy black-eyed susans, and statuesque blazing stars supply protein-rich pollen and nectar for nourishment while extensive prairie bee and wasp nesting grounds shelter developing young. Further north in the Prairie Pothole regions, vibrant sunflowers, asters, obedience plants and joe pyes thrive along sedge-lined wetland margins, attracting painted ladies and monarchs on their long migrations through.

By planting gardens and restored spaces big and small showcasing the rugged beauty and ecological resilience of native Northern Plains wildflowers, grasses and sedges, even urban dwellers can extend essential habitat for struggling native pollinators.

South Central Prairie & Oak Savannas

Further south, shortgrass prairies and oak savannas harbor their own distinct native plants tailored over generations to support localized pollinators. In Oklahoma and Texas, the chocolate and pink blooms of mealy sage paint grasslands where Pygmy Blue butterflies flit between flowers. Birds and insects alike flock to the small yellow umbels of showy partridge pea punctuating the landscape through blistering summers and mild winters alike. And shrubs like fragrant sumac support dozens of sphinx moth caterpillars while also feeding migrating hummingbirds with their cone-shaped blooms.

Gardeners can showcase the drought-defying colorful beauty and hardy wildlife bounty of native Texas prairies and Oklahoma oak savannas very effectively in home gardens to support local pollinators. By planting shortgrass prairie and oak savanna specialist plants like rusty blackhaw viburnum, purple lesser peachleaf bee balm, mealy blue sage and more, we can help expand essential habitat for native bees, butterflies, birds and other struggling Southern Plains wildlife even in urban environments.

Northwest Coast Forests & Meadows

From the Sitka spruce forests of Alaska to the flower-strewn rainforests of Oregon and Washington, the native plants of America’s Pacific Northwest evolved to capture the most of the sunlight they can from misty forest floors. Delicate but hardy wildflowers like fringe cups, bleeding hearts, trilliums and tidal marsh daisy blanket the region’s shady woodlands in vibrant carpets during brief intensely fertile spring blooming windows. Their strategy is clever – form sheer floral abundance fast to entice clouds of early native flies, beetles and bees to pollinate them in the moist nutrient-rich soils before trees leaf out and block the sunlight.

Then in open mountain meadows from Southern Oregon’s Rogue River valleys to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, glowing purple lupine and paintbrush meadows burst with color providing mass spring to summer blooms. These areas act as crucial stopover feeding grounds for migrant hummingbirds and butterflies like the Clodius Parnassian traversing the region on long seasonal journeys. Native bumble bees meanwhile grow robust new queens and colonies securely nestled underground amidst these concentric rings of flower abundance under open skies. By utilizing Northwest native plants like red columbine, kinnikinnik, mock orange, sulfur buckwheat and more in home gardens and public landscaping, we can help recreate this sequence of abundant floral resources across the seasons supporting diverse bee and hummingbird species despite urbanization pressures.

BEST NATIVE PLANTS FOR ATTRACTING AND SUPPORTING POLLINATORS ACROSS DIFFERENT U.S. REGIONS

Conclusion

America’s diverse landscapes, from subtropical wetlands to high mountain meadows, nurture a spectacular array of uniquely adapted native plants supporting specialized local pollinators. As rampant development and pesticide impacts decimate populations of vital bee and butterfly species nationwide, planting our gardens, parks and public lands with regional native plants offers a meaningful way we can help.

By showcasing hardy, habitat-providing native species tailored to local soils and pollinators, we can replicate life-giving seasonal floral resources in even small restored native plant gardens. And the aesthetic beauty, low maintenance, and habitat benefits native regional plants provide gardens across rural, suburban and urban spaces make dedicating even a portion of landscapes to these species worthwhile.

So consider consulting regional native plant guides to choose sustainable, pollinator-friendly flowering species, shrubs and trees for your area. Let your garden reflect the floral bounty and biodiversity of your region while supporting specialized local pollinators. And by spreading the word on the enormous ecological benefits of native plants to friends and neighbors, you can help the native plant movement propagate across America, one yard at a time!

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    About the Author

    Cameron

    Cameron is a plant journalist who loves everything green and eco-friendly. He writes for various publications about the benefits of native plants, such as enhancing biodiversity, reducing water use, and supporting pollinators. He also runs a special column about Native Plants of the Month on Askseeds.com Cameron believes that everyone can make a positive difference one seed at a time.

    RELATED READING

    SPECIES SPOTLIGHT

    NATIVE PLANT OF THE MONTH

    LEAFY LETTERS

    Join our Newsletter

    Become an integral part of our community of fellow plant lovers, where every edition is a botanical adventure waiting to unfold. Discover exclusive gardening tips, stay updated on the latest plant trends and answering readers questions on Ask Seeds!

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