Native Plants for Pollinators
By: John Kees, NCU herbarium intern
1. Sedge (Carex spp.)
-An important component of natural forest understory and wetland communities.
-The federally endangered Mitchell’s satyr (Neonympha mitchelliana) uses Carex as host plants, along with several skipper butterflies.
-More-or-less evergreen, most active in the cold-season, and can be used as a groundcover or Liriope alternative. Some species do well as annually mowed lawn substitutes in shade, best paired with shade-tolerant forbs and spring ephemerals e.g. Mississippi river wakerobin (Trillium foetidissimum), Lapham’s wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata ssp. laphamii), native violet woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea), spring-beauty (Claytonia virginiana), perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata).
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Carex socialis (Social sedge), Carex joorii (Cypress swamp sedge), Carex cherokeensis (Cherokee sedge) Carex crinita (fringed sedge), Carex abscondita (hidden sedge), Carex glaucescens (pendulous sedge), Carex flaccosperma (blue sedge), Carex blanda (common wood sedge), Carex atlantica spp. capillacea (prickly bog sedge), Carex intumescens (bladder sedge), Carex lurida (sallow sedge), Carex vulpinoidea (Fox sedge), Carex leavenworthii (leavenworth’s sedge), Carex crus-corvi (crowfoot sedge).
(Andropogon spp./Schizachyrium spp.)
-Hosts for many different skipper butterflies (Hesperiidae) and a variety of other insects.
-Provides important cover & forage for wildlife during the winter.
-Native bunchgrasses can be interseeded with clumps of flowering native forbs to suppress weeds, help support stems, and enhance wildlife habitat.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem, formerly Andropogon scoparius), Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem), Andropogon ternarius (splitbeard bluestem), Andropogon gyrans (Elliott’s bluestem), Andropogon mohrii (Mohr’s bluestem), Andropogon glomeratus var. glaucopsis (purple bluestem), Andropogon virginicus var. glaucus (white bluestem)
*Other great commercially available native grasses: switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Prairie indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), lopsided indiangrass (Sorghastrum secundum), pineywoods dropseed (Sporobolus junceus), prairie three-awn (Aristida purpurascens), southeastern wildrye (Elymus glabriflorus), florida paspalum (Paspalum floridanum), Plicate paspalum (Paspalum plicatulum), purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis), Elliott’s lovegrass (Eragrostis elliottii), Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides), silky oatgrass (Danthonia sericea), poverty oatgrass (Danthonia spicata), Black needlegrass (Piptochaetium avenaceum), Purpletop (Tridens flavus), Longspike tridens (Tridens strictus), muhlygrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), silkyscale grass (Anthaenantia rufa).
3. Blazing-star (Liatris spp.)
-Flowers attract hummingbirds and a wide variety of bees, butterflies and pollinating flies and wasps.
-Important nectar source for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) during fall migration.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Liatris squarrulosa (appalachian blazingstar), Liatris elegans (elegant blazing-star), Liatris pycnostachya var. lasiophylla (louisiana prairie blazingstar), Liatris spicata var. resinosa (southern gayfeather), Liatris squarrosa (scaly blazingstar).
4. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
-Genus hosts 100+ species of butterflies and moths and a wide variety of other native insects.
-Flowers attract bees, butterflies, and pollinating flies, wasps, and beetles.
-Pollen source for many pollen specialist bees.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Solidago rugosa (crinkle-leaf goldenrod), Solidago caesia var. zedia (gulf coast bluestem goldenrod), Solidago fistulosa (pineywoods goldenrod), Solidago petiolaris (downy goldenrod), Solidago auriculata (eared goldenrod), Solidago nitida (shining goldenrod), Solidago mexicana (southern seaside goldenrod), Solidago speciosa (showy goldenrod).
5. Native sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)
-Host plants for 50+ species of butterflies and moths, including the silvery checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis).
-Flowers attract a variety of bees, butterflies, and pollinating flies, wasps, and beetles.
-Pollen source for many native pollen specialist bees.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Helianthus mollis (ashy sunflower), Helianthus atrorubens (darkeye sunflower), Helianthus heterophyllus (variable sunflower), Helianthus resinosus (resindot sunflower), Helianthus simulans (muck sunflower), Helianthus debilis (beach sunflower), Helianthus divaricatus (woodland sunflower), Helianthus microcephalus (smallhead sunflower).
6. American aster (Symphyotrichum spp.)
-Very late-blooming, into December for some species.
-Host plant for pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos).
-Flowers attract a variety of bees, butterflies, and pollinating flies, wasps, and beetles. Pollen source for many native specialist bees.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Symphyotrichum cordifolium (heartleaf aster), Symphyotrichum patens (patent aster), Symphyotrichum elliottii (Elliott’s aster), Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (calico aster), Symphyotrichum dumosum (bushy aster), Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster), Symphyotrichum praealtum (willowleaf aster), Symphyotrichum drummondii (Drummond’s heartleaf aster).
7. Ironweed (Vernonia spp.)
-Flowers are very attractive to butterflies and long-tongued bees.
-Host plant & supports a few pollen specialist bees.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Vernonia angustifolia (narrowleaf ironweed), Vernonia gigantea (giant ironweed), Vernonia texana (Texas ironweed).
8. Native hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.)
-The hibiscus bee (Ptilothrix bombianus) feeds only on native Hibiscus.
-Host plant for a variety of beneficial insects, 30+ species of butterflies and moths.
-Flowers attract hummingbirds, solitary bees, pollinating flies, wasps, and beetles.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Hibiscus aculeatus (pineland hibiscus), Hibiscus coccineus (scarlet rosemallow), Hibiscus lasiocarpos (woolly rose-mallow), Hibiscus laevis (halberd-leaved hibiscus).
9. Wild-indigo (Baptisia spp.)
-Host for a few species of moths and flowers attract a variety of pollinators.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Baptisia nuttalliana (nuttall’s wild-indigo), Baptisia alba (white wild-indigo), Baptisia leucophaea (cream wild-indigo), Baptisia sphaerocarpa (yellow wild-indigo).
10. Maryland wild-senna (Senna marilandica)
-A preferred host plant for cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae) and several butterflies in the genus Eurema, less aggressive than partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata).
11. Native sage (Salvia spp.)
-High-value nectar plants for solitary bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Salvia azurea ssp. azurea (giant blue sage), Salvia lyrata (lyreleaf sage), Salvia coccinea (scarlet sage).
12. Native verbena
(Verbena spp./Glandularia spp.)
-Flowers attract long-tongued bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.
-Good alternative to Lantana (Lantana x strigocamara), stiff vervain (Verbena rigida), and Brazilian vervain (Verbena brasiliensis), invasive species in the same family often promoted for pollinator gardens.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Glandularia canadensis (rose vervain, formerly Verbena canadensis), Verbena xutha (gulf vervain), Verbena halei (Texas vervain), Verbena carnea (Carolina vervain).
13. Spring cress (Cardamine bulbosa)
-Early spring flowers attract a variety of pollinators.
-Host for the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) and falcate orangetip (Anthocharis midea).
14. Penstemon (Penstemon spp.)
-Foxglove-like blooms attract hummingbirds, long-tongued bees, and butterflies; a few species are also reported to use Penstemon as a host plant.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Gulf coast beardtongue (Penstemon tenuis), loose-flowered beardtongue (Penstemon laxiflorus), Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis).
15. Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)*
-Only host plants for the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus); flowers visited by a variety of pollinators.
-Avoid nonnative Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which supports high concentrations of OE (Ophryocystis elektrosc irrha) a parasite that kills monarchs, and has evergreen foliage which can attract the overwintering generation of monarchs to breed instead of flying to overwintering sites in Mexico.
Recommended species for PR drainage: Asclepias viridis (Green antelopehorns), Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed), Asclepias perennis (white swamp milkweed), Asclepias verticillata (Whorled milkweed), Asclepias variegata (red-ring milkweed), Asclepias hirtella (tall green milkweed), Asclepias lanceolata (few-flower milkweed), Asclepias humistrata (sandhill milkweed), Asclepias obovata (pineland milkweed), Asclepias michauxii (Michaux’s milkweed), Asclepias longifolia (longleaf milkweed), Asclepias rubra (purple savannah milkweed).
16. Violet (Viola spp.)
-Host plant for fritillary butterflies in the genus Speyeria.
-Important early spring nectar plant for bees, preferred by some specialist bees.
*Recommended species in PR drainage: Viola walteri (Walter’s violet), Viola pedata (birdsfoot violet), Viola septemloba (coastal plain violet), Viola palmata (wood violet), Viola primulifolia (primrose-leaved violet), Viola sagittata (arrowleaf violet).
17. Cowbane (Oxypolis spp.) or bishopweed (Ptilimnium spp.) (native black swallowtail hosts)
-Host plants for Eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).
-Flowers attract a variety of pollinators.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Oxypolis rigidior (pig-potato), Oxypolis filiformis (water-cowbane), Ptilimnium capillaceum (eastern bishopweed), Ptilimnium nuttallii (laceflower).
18. Bee-blossoms (Oenothera spp.)
-Host plant for white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata), also primrose moth (Schinia florida) and several other specialists.
-Supports several specialist bees.
-Oenothera biennis has night-opening flowers pollinated primarily by sphinx moths.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Oenothera lindheimeri (Lindheimer’s beeblossoms), Oenothera fruticosa (sundrops), Oenothera biennis (biennial evening-primrose).
19. Hoarypea (Tephrosia spp.)*
-Host plant for several oligophagous skipper butterflies (Hesperiidae).
-Attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and long-tongued bees.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Tephrosia onobrychoides (multibloom tephrosia), Tephrosia virginiana (goat’s-rue), Tephrosia spicata (spiked hoarypea).
20. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
-Host for snowberry clearing (Hemaris diffinis) and hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe).
-Flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds.
21. Woolly dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia tomentosa)
-Host plant for pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor).
22. Native clematis (Clematis spp.)
-High value to solitary bees, also attracts pollinating wasps and flies.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Clematis crispa (marsh leatherflower), Clematis reticulata (net-veined leatherflower), Clematis virginiana (virgin’s-bower), Clematis catesbyana (Catesby’s virgin’s-bower)
23. Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
-Preferred host plant for gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).
-Flowers attract a variety of pollinators.
24. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
-Not a particularly significant host plant, but the flowers attract very large volumes of pollinators, especially butterflies.
25. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
-Host plant for Mississippi’s state butterfly, the Spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus).
-Very early spring blooms are pollinated mostly by solitary bees and flies.
26. Wild blueberry (Vaccinium spp.)
-Host plant for a wide variety of beneficial insects--collectively (for the genus) several hundred species of butterflies and moths.
-Preferred by many specialist bees.
-Edible (especially V. formosum and V. virgatum).
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Vaccinium stamineum (deerberry), Vaccinium darrowii (Darrow’s evergreen blueberry), Vaccinium elliottii (Elliott’s blueberry), Vaccinium formosum (southern highbush blueberry), Vaccinium virgatum (rabbiteye blueberry)
27. Native hawthorn (Crataegus spp.).
-Important host plant for a wide variety of beneficial insects, including the red-spotted purple (Limenitis anthemis) and Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).
-Fruits are eaten by migratory birds.
-Spring blooms are attractive to native bees.
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Crataegus opaca (western mayhaw), Crataegus pulcherrima (beautiful hawthorn), Crataegus marshallii (parsley hawthorn), Crataegus uniflora (one-flowered hawthorn), Crataegus ashei (Ashe’s hawthorn), Crataegus triflora (three-flowered hawthorn), Crataegus brachyacantha (blueberry hawthorn).
28. Tall indigo-bush (Amorpha fruticosa)
-Host plant for the southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia), several skippers, and other beneficial insects.
-Flowers are mostly pollinated by native solitary bees.
29. Hercules’ club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis)
-Host plant for giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes).
-Attractive to a range of small pollinators, especially pollinating flies and solitary bees.
30. Wild plum (Prunus spp.)
-Early spring blooms are attractive to native bees.
-Genus hosts many butterflies and moths, including the red-spotted purple (Limenitis anthemis), tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), and several sphinx moths and Saturniid moths .
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum), Prunus umbellata (flatwoods plum).
31. Holly (Ilex spp.)
-Blooms support several specialist bees.
-Berries are important for migratory birds.
-Avoid yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) and other evergreen species which have taken over grasslands in south MS and are often considered "native invasives".
*Recommended species for PR drainage: Ilex amelanchier (Sarvis holly), Ilex ambigua (Carolina holly), Ilex verticillata (winterberry holly), Ilex decidua (Deciduous holly), Ilex longipes (Georgia holly)
32. Spring-beauty (Claytonia virginiana)
-Only source of pollen for the specialist bee Andrena erigeniae; major early spring nectar source for many pollinators.
-Active in very early spring and can tolerate frequent mowing when not in bloom.
-Great transition away from lawn, along with other low-growing early spring bloomers like Ranunculus fascicularis (early buttercup), Anemone caroliniana (prairie anemone), Sisyrinchium spp. (blue-eyed-grass), and Drosera brevifolia (dwarf sundew).
-Join your native plant society!
-Most solitary bees are ground-nesting and need patches of bare soil or sand that aren’t regularly trampled to reproduce.
-Cutting back dead stems and blowering leaves in the winter removes overwintering habitat for wildlife. Instead, cut back dead stems in the early spring and leave leaves in place or gently rake them into beds to use as natural mulch (spring ephemerals and forest understory shrubs love hardwood leaf litter!).
-Help control invasive species. Invasive plants harm wildlife by escaping from cultivation (via seed and other propagules, often wildlife-dispersed) and disrupting or even completely replacing native plant communities. Removing invasive plants and filling the gaps with native plants is a good way to start introducing natives to your yard.
-Only a tiny fraction of exotic (non-native) plants become invasive, but all exotic plants can be harmful when planted over large areas, especially in monocultures. Food chains are powered by native insects which exotic plants cannot support. Conversion of native vegetation to agriculture, tree plantations, landscaping and lawn threatens all native wildlife.
-Runoff from lawns pollutes waterways and harms wildlife; lawns are also a major source of greenhouse gases and airborne pollutants. Lawn removal should be a focus of native plantings. Native "meadow" plantings using grassland plants (sun) and “sedge lawns” (shade) are much lower-maintenance alternatives. Native wetland buffers and rain gardens can help filter runoff and control erosion.
-Greater diversity of native plants = greater diversity of wildlife. Native insects tend to specialize on a few species or genera of native plants.
-Ecoregions, not zones! As native plantings develop, the goal, overall, should be to mimic the plant communities which naturally occurred in the area. Species that occur within the same ecoregion as the planting in similar habitat (consider soil, moisture, slope, shade) will benefit wildlife the most and be easiest to maintain.
-Most MS and LA uplands were historically prairie, savannah, or open woodland, maintained by frequent surface fires--not forest! These “treed grasslands” are incredibly diverse, but nearly all of the diversity is in the herbaceous understory (grasses and wildflowers), with a handful of scrubby, fire-adapted shrubs. Grassland plants are critical for pollinators in the southeast and should be the focus in sunny or semi-sunny locations.
-“Powerhouse” plants are great to start with, but the high numbers of insects hosted can be misleading. Insects can require different plants and different habitats at different life stages and many “powerhouse” plants are generalists which have expanded their ranges in recent years (e.g. mesophytic oaks).
Establishment & maintenance:
-Native plants don’t need soil amendments or fertilizers! Not all native plants grow in all soil types, but all soil types have native plants adapted to them.
-Mississippi native plants evolved under conditions of intense competition. They're most effective when allowed to intermingle with other species that occur in the same habitat, not grown as individual specimens in manicured, mulched landscaping beds.
-Weeds can be a problem early on, but native perennials are strong competitors and will eventually push out annual and biennial weeds.
-Growing native plants from seed is cheap, but good site prep is essential--avoid soil disturbance, use a non-persistent herbicide like glyphosate. Grassland plants develop extensive root systems so they will not flower for the first 2-3 years (“first year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap”). Sources that sell native seed and do native grassland restoration can provide more detailed info.
-Native grassland plants are adapted to frequent fire and will benefit from spring burns every 1-3 years once established to control weeds and stimulate growth and reproduction. Some will only bloom and fruit reliably if burned or mowed periodically, and most native perennials will put out a flush of new growth post-burn. Mowing and raking is a helpful alternative for urban areas where burning is prohibited.
Shopping for native plants:
-Scientific names are the best way to get accurate info. Copy and paste!
-Use local genetic material whenever possible (plants sourced within the same ecoregion, or, even better, the same or a nearby county). Local ecotypes are best for wildlife and will be easiest to maintain over time. Cross-contact with non-local plants and cultivars can have negative genetic effects on local, native populations.
-Cultivars (horticultural selections) of native plants (“nativars”) should be avoided. Denoted with single quotes. E.g. Iris ‘Ann chowning’ or Stokes’ aster ‘Peachie’s pick’. In extreme cases they may be completely unusable to wildlife the local ecotype supports.
-Always check to make sure a plant is actually native before purchasing it. Nurseries can be deceptive.
-Mississippi Native Plant Society (join at https://www.mississippinativeplantsociety.org/) and Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1947279902251372/)
-Louisiana Native Plant Society (https://www.lnps.org/); chapters--Folsom native plant society (http://folsomnps.org/), Capital area native plant society (http://canps.weebly.com/), Native plant initiative of greater New Orleans (https://www.npi-gno.org/); Facebook discussion groups: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1054570457994403 https://www.facebook.com/groups/1583694195234726/, https://www.facebook.com/groups/npigno.
-High-quality images and species profiles: https://warcapps.usgs.gov/PlantID/, https://www.wildflower.org/, http://www.southeasternflora.com/index.php.
-iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/home). For documenting wild plants (native or exotic, cultivated plants will be marked as Casual grade). iNat is regularly used in research and already helping clarify species distributions and locate new populations of both rare native species and recently introduced species. The iNat community is full of experts who can help ID plants.
-Searchable list of nonnative invasive plants https://www.invasive.org/weeds.cfm
-Weakley’s flora (2020): https://ncbg.unc.edu/research/unc-herbarium/flora-request/. The definitive resource for plant ID in the southeast, with a comprehensive dichotomous key covering the entire region (>10,000 species). Species entries include info (often more up-to-date) found in all of the following sources. Has an index of common names, complete synonymies & basic habitat info for each species.
-BONAP is the best source for county distribution maps (see color key): (http://bonap.net/NAPA/Genus/Traditional/County).
-EPA level III and IV ecoregions: (https://www.epa.gov/eco-research/ecoregion-download-files-state-region-4#pane-22).
-https://www.itis.gov/. Useful when horticultural sources use outdated scientific names. Type in any scientific name and it will come up with the currently accepted name and all synonyms.
Bonnie La Borde Johnson
7/15/2021 09:39:46 pm
4/22/2022 03:49:52 am
Often I will read a post and think great post! ...
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