Butterflies and hummingbirds enrich gardens through more than beauty, color and movement. As these entertaining visitors seek out nectar, they transfer pollen from bloom to bloom. Their help in pollination can boost your garden’s quantity and quality of vegetables, fruits, flowers and seeds. Butterflies and hummingbirds share some affinities, but they also have distinct preferences. Invite these precious pollinators to your garden with flowers that meet their needs.
Some butterflies surpass flowers in colors and patterns. (Betty4240/iStock/Getty Images)
Vivid annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), showy cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) and vibrant common zinnias (Zinnia elegans) exemplify the types of flowers butterflies seek. Aromatic, nectar-rich perennials such as scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, draw them, too.
Butterflies prefer warm, sunny gardens sheltered from wind. Peak feeding occurs during mid-day hours with sunshine at its peak. Full sun promotes abundant nectar production, which encourages more visits. As butterflies flutter from flower to flower, pollen sticks to their legs and travels to nearby blooms.
Zinnias offer butterflies nectar and easy landings. (inurbanspace/iStock/Getty Images)
Prolific flowering vines, such as gold flame honeysuckle (Lonicera × heckrottii, USDA zones 5 through 9) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans, USDA zones 4 through 9), provide hummingbird buffets. Tubular blooms on cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis, USDA zones 3 through 9) and great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica, USDA zones 4 through 9) earn similar praise.
Many birds pollinate flowers, but hummingbirds excel in effective, exuberant pollination. Pollen covers their heads and feathers as they dive deep into neighboring blossoms. Tiny garden pests, such as gnats, aphids and mosquitoes, add protein to hummingbird diets.
Blue lobelia blossoms charm hummingbirds. (Dopeyden/iStock/Getty Images)
Locally native plants draw and support native butterflies and hummingbirds. Widespread natives such as black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta, USDA zones 3 through 7) and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, USDA zones 3 through 8) are butterfly favorites and bearded penstemon (Penstemon barbatus, USDA zones 4 through 8) delight hummingbirds.
Native plants for butterflies and hummingbirds vary with locale. In Texas, the pink-purple blooms of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa, USDA 3 through 9) attract butterflies and hummingbirds. In Florida, its close relative dotted bee balm (Monarda punctata, USDA zones 3 through 8), also known as Eastern horsemint, does the same.
Butterflies complement annual Indian blanket’s (_Gaillardi pulchella_) colorful blooms. (leekris/iStock/Getty Images)
As native habitats decline, so do butterfly populations. Monarchs illustrate the dependence between pollinators and plants. Adult monarchs gather nectar from many different flowers, but their caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweeds (Ascelpias spp., USDA zones 3 through 11). Often eradicated as weedy pests, milkweeds sustain three to five monarch generations born each year.