When you choose to create a pollinator garden in your home or community, you're not only building a gorgeous sanctuary for humans -– you’re doing your part to help honey bees and other pollinators as well! Pollinator gardens planted without pesticides or fungicides increase the health of surrounding beehives, and ensure all bees have a healthy food source year-round.
Planet Bee spent hours poring over the best pollinator plants native to the Bay Area. We were excited to discover that some have medicinal uses, have been used by Native American tribes, and play host to a variety of butterfly species! Here's a list of some of our favorites:
NATIVE POLLINATOR PLANTS
Baby Blue Eyes: a carpet of beautiful blue flowers, bliss for bees! Annual groundcover, flowers from early spring to midsummer. Must be kept moist if grown in full sun-- prefers partial shade.
Silver Carpet Spreading Beach Aster: Ground cover with silver leaves and purple flowers in late summer. Native to the coastal bluffs of Monterey county. Host to Gabb's Checkerspot Butterfly larvae.
California Poppy: 3 inches tall, with beautiful orange flowers. The state flower of California. Used by Planet Bee in all our seed balls! Medicinal uses include treatment of insomnia, aches, nervous agitation, and diseases of the bladder and liver.
Checkerbloom: 2 foot spreading wildflower native to the coastal prairie, with beautiful pink flowers. A nectar and larval food source for the West Coast Lady, Painted Lady, Common Checkered Skipper, and the Gray Hairstreak butterflies.
Silver Lupine: Tall plant with silver leaves and blue flowers in summer. Host to the caterpillar of San Francisco’s rare and endangered Mission Blue Butterfly. Native Americans have drunk tea with lupine leaves to treat nausea, failure to urinate, and internal hemorrhage. Some subspecies of lupine have poisonous seeds.
Narrowleaf Milkweed: 2-4 foot plant with pink flowers in summer. Larval host and food source for the Monarch butterfly. Tolerates shade. Different Native American tribes have had different uses for it. The Zuni have used the silky seed fibers to make yarn which was woven into a fabric worn by dancers. The Pueblo have eaten green milkweed pods and uncooked roots. The Yokia Indians of Mendocino County have eaten young flowers. A number of tribes have turned the sticky sap into chewing gum by heating it until it became solid, then adding salmon fat or dear grease.
Showy Tarweed: 3-4 foot plant with yellow flowers. Drought tolerant. Some native North American Indian tribes have relied on tarweed seeds as their staple food source. These seeds are rich in oil, and can be ground into a powder and eaten dry, mixed with water, or combined with cereal flours.
California Yampah: 3 foot perennial grass-like plant with white flowers in summer. Native to Mt Diablo. It can be found in the Central Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada foothills, growing in moist soil, often near streams. Yampah seeds and leaves can be eaten, as can their tubers. These "Indian potatoes" were relished by American Indians to the point the plants were over-harvested to extinction in many areas. Uncooked yampah roots are a gentle laxative if consumed in excess and were used medicinally for this purpose.
POLLINATOR PLANTS FOR EVERY GARDEN
Below, we've listed some bee-loved plants that attract bees and thrive in many different environments.
Lavender – Lavandula spp.
Rosemary – Rosemarinus officinalis
Sage – Salvia spp.
Coneflower – Echinacea spp.
Sunflower – Helianthus spp.
Redbud – Cercis spp.
Catnip – Nepeta spp.
Penstemon – Penstemon spp.
Lamb’s Ear – Stachys spp.
Verbena – Verbena spp.
Bells of Phacelia – Phacelia spp.
Black-eyed Susan – Rudbeckia spp.
Oregano – Origanum spp.
Yarrow – Achilliea millefolium
Honeywort - Cerinthe major
Don't forget, many plants that are food for pollinators are food for humans as well! For example, rosemary, verbena and oregano are commonly used in cooking, and make a fantastic addition to an herb garden. Helping pollinators helps everyone –- and looks bee-autiful at the same time.
Want a longer list of plants pollinated by bees? For pollinator-preferred plants that are specific to your region, enter your postal code into this fantastic tool. Need a resource for organic seeds? Visit Organic Seed Finder. Want to garden without pesticides, we have info on that. And of course we have "the 101s" of becoming a backyard beekeeper.
For a guide to pollinator plants by region: http://pollinator.org/guides
For plants native to the Bay Area: www.baynatives.com