26 native plants that will attract pollinators to your garden

Published: April 7, 2021 · Updated: April 8, 2021

There are thousands of plants that are native to Canada, and many are suitable for cultivation in a home garden. In addition to their beautiful flowers, fascinating structures, and low maintenance habits, native plants also support over 1000 species of pollinators.

Canada is home to a wealth of butterflies (302 species), moths (~5,000 species), and bees (800 species). Many wasp, fly, and beetle species also provide pollination services. Most subsist on pollen and nectar as adults—and require specific plants to feed and shelter them as eggs and larvae. Some of these larvae, such as those of hoverflies, serve as important controls on pest insects.

While non-native garden species may supply some of their needs, native plants will attract them in greater abundance. Even small garden patches in urban environments provide valuable oases for these creatures, allowing them to persist despite habitat destruction and ecological degradation.

Scientists suggest planting at least 20 species in order to attract the maximum number of pollinators. But allotting even a small portion of your landscape to Canadian natives can have a major impact.

Here are a few plants suitable for the border of your garden, broken down by flower type. Note that these types are not formal botanical designations. They simply allow for easy categorization. Select a variety of forms for both visual interest and wide pollinator appeal.

Flowering plants

Clustered flowers

Flowers that bloom in clusters—formally known as umbels—are appealing to a wide array of pollinators. While each cluster may appear to be a single blossom, it actually consists of many, tiny flowers. Due to their flat, open form, clustering flowers offer nectar and pollen to even the tiniest of insects, which typically are unable to extract these resources from deeper blossoms.

Suitable Canadian natives include:

  • Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
  • Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
  • Goldenrods (Solidago species)
  • Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum)
  • Milkweeds (Asclepias species)

Tubular flowers

Many plants have evolved tubular shapes specifically to court certain pollinators. Butterflies and bees have long proboscises to extract the nectar pooling in the throats of these blossoms. Hummingbirds possess extraordinarily long tongues adapted to the same purpose. Some bees and flies that don’t possess the apparatus necessary to extract the nectar by politely sipping will simply bite through the base of the flower—a phenomenon known as nectar robbery.

Suitable Canadian natives include:

  • Columbine (Aquilegia species)
  • Giant hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Canada milk vetch (Astragalus canadensis)
  • Monarda species
  • Penstemon species

Daisy-like flowers:

Perhaps the most archetypical of flowers, the deceptively simple blooms produced by the family Asteraceae are a boon to pollinators. The eye of a daisy is actually a tightly packed array of flowers, surrounded by a ring of bracts—what we think of as petals. These tiny blossoms are shallow and easily accessible by nearly all pollinators, from minuscule flies and beetles to ponderous bumble bees.

Suitable Canadian natives include:

  • Asters (Symphyotrichum species)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia species)
  • Purple coneflowers (Echinacea species)
  • Sunflowers (Helianthus species)

Grasses

While grasses aren’t typically grown for their flowers, they do indeed produce subtle and often ornamental blooms that later develop into seed heads, providing lasting winter interest. Perhaps more importantly, they provide habitat and shelter for both adult and larval pollinators.

Suitable Canadian natives include:

  • Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
  • Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis)
  • Prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata)
  • Sideoats grama grass (Bouteloua curtipendula)

Trees and shrubs

Woody plants are often overlooked in planning for pollinators. Many of them flower early in the spring, when nectar resources are scarce. And further, their foliage is food for numerous caterpillars and other larvae.

Suitable Canadian natives include:

  • Birch (Betula species; trees)
  • Maples (Acer species; trees)
  • Roses (Rosa species; shrubs)
  • Raspberries and blackberries (Rubus species; shrubs)
  • Serviceberries (Amelanchier species; shrubs and small trees)
  • Viburnum species (shrubs)
  • Willows (Salix species; tree and shrub forms)

If you want to further encourage native pollinators in your garden, consider putting out shallow dishes filled with stones and water to provide hydration, erecting bee houses, leaving patches of bare earth for burrowing species, and leaving dead stems and foliage over the winter to allow hibernating pupae to survive and emerge in the spring.

If you’re looking for a full listing of native species in your area, consider using the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Encyclopedia.

Featured Video