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General features of plants that provide habitat & food for pollinators

Last updated about 5 years ago

Many plants have evolved special characteristics to attract certain pollinators, both vertebrates and invertebrates.

Original source: National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) at

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    Bees are attracted to bright white, yellow, blue, or violet flowers, or those that reflect ultraviolet light (e.g., bee balm). Ultraviolet patterns called "nectar guides" may be present. The flower's shape is often tubular with moderate to abundant nectar at the base of the tube. Pollen is often limited. Small, short-tongued bees prefer clusters of tiny flowers such as marigold, daisy, aromatic herbs, phlox, and butterfly weed. Bee-pollinated flowers smell fresh, mild, or minty.

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    True Butterflies

    Butterflies feed from bright red, orange, yellow, pink, blue, or purple flowers that are often large and showy with a faint fresh odor. Pollen is often limited. The flower often features a funnel shape or narrow tube with nectar at the base, as well as a landing platform. Examples of butterfly-pollinated plants include: zinnia, calendula, butterfly weed, yarrow, goldenrod, Spirea, milkweeds, honeysuckle, and daisy. Butterflies also require foods in addition to nectar, such as animal droppings or rotting fruit. Butterflies also need plants in which to lay eggs and provide food for larvae (caterpillars). These may not be the most typical or desirable of garden plants; in fact, some are plants that you might otherwise consider "weeds." And of course the leaves will be damaged by caterpillar foraging. Good plants for larvae include milkweed, aster, lupine, thistle, fennel, violets, hollyhock, and black-eyed susans.

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    Bats generally visit large, showy flowers that are dull white, cream, green, or purple. Bat-pollinated flowers open at night, at which time they emit a strong musty, fermenting, or fruity odor. The flowers tend to be firm, wide-mouthed and bell- or dish-shaped. Other bat-pollinated flowers have a brushy or pincushion appearance due to either many exposed stamens on a flower or an inflorescence of many clustered flowers with showy stamens. Pollen and nectar tend to be copious. Examples of bat-pollinated flowers include morning glory (Ipomoea albivena), giant cacti such as saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) and organpipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi), agave, and the African baobab tree (Adansonia digitata). In addition to feeding on nectar, pollen, and other flower parts, bats also feed on the insects they find inside the flowers.