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General features of plants that provide habitat & food for pollinators

Last updated over 4 years ago

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

Original source: National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) at

  • 55254_88_88 Animalia > Vespoidea



    Ants visit inconspicuous, low-growing flowers positioned close to the stem. Examples of ant-pollinated plants in North America include Small's stonecrop (Diamorpha smallii), alpine nailwort (Paronychia pulvinata), and Cascade knotweed (Polygonum cascadense).

  • 18963_88_88 Animalia > Apoidea



    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.

  • 12058_88_88 Animalia > Insecta



    Beetles tend to pollinate flowers that are dull white or green with an odor that is often unpleasant to humans - perhaps strongly fruity or fetid. The flowers are large and flat or bowl-like, with sexual organs exposed and pollen ample and easily accessed. Nectar may be absent. The flowers may be solitary or in clusters of smaller flowers. Examples of beetle-pollinated flowers include: magnolia, aster, sunflower, rose, butterfly weed, pond lilies, goldenrods, and Spirea.

  • 31775_88_88 Animalia > Lepidoptera


    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.

  • 52295_88_88 Animalia > Insecta


    True Flies, Mosquitoes and Gnats

    Flies visit pale and dull green, white, or cream flowers, and sometimes dark brown or purple; sometimes the flowers are flecked with translucent patches. Preferred flower shapes include simple bowl shapes, funnel-like shapes, or complex shapes. The most noticeable aspect of fly-pollinated flowers is often their odor, which may be similar to the smell of decaying protein (e.g., carrion or rotting meat). Nectar is usually absent and pollen is limited.

  • 51508_88_88 Animalia > Insecta


    Butterflies and Moths

    Moths visit pale and dull flowers - often white, pink, purple, or red - that open in late afternoon or at night, at which time they typically emit a strong and sweet odor. The flowers, often described as large and showy, are tubular with deeply hidden, abundant nectar and limited pollen. Flowers may form clusters that provide a landing platform. Examples of moth-pollinated plants include evening primrose, morning glory, tobacco, yucca, and gardenia.

  • 94311_88_88 Animalia > Chordata



    Birds often pollinate scarlet, orange, red, or white tubular flowers with perch support and the petals curved out of the way. Bird-pollinated flowers are typically large and showy with abundant nectar and usually lacking in a noticeable scent. Unlike other birds, hummingbirds do not require perch support because they hover while feeding on nectar. Examples of hummingbird-pollinated plants include honeysuckle, sage, fuchsia, jewelweed, fireweed, cardinal flower, bee balm, nasturtium, century plant, columbine, and red salvia.

  • 58729_88_88 Animalia > Eutheria Gill, 1872



    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.