Planting for Butterflies and Bees

by Adrian D. Thysse

As part of an info sheet I made for my booth at That Blooming Garden and Art Sale, I included a list of some plants that are useful for attracting bees, butterflies and other insects. I hope some readers may find this list useful when selecting plants for their own gardens this season.  Remember that mass planting (especially of perennials) is always more succesful than planting single specimens alone. If you know of other flowers that attract pollinators, please add your choice in the comments!

Saskatoon Amelanchier alnifolia
Wolf Willow Elaeagnus commutata
Aspen Populus tremuloides
Choke Cherry  Prunus virginiana
Willow Salix spp.
Lilac Syringa spp

Dogwood Cornus spp
Honeysuckle Lonicera spp.
Mockorange Philadelphus
Roses (Rosa spp. and some hyb.)

Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida
Blanketflower Gaillardia aristata
Blue giant hyssop Agastache foeniculum
Catmint Nepeta spp.
Cone Flower Echinaceae purpurea
Coltsfoot  Petasites palmatus
Fireweed Epilobium angustifolium
Fleabane Erigiron spp
Globe Thistle Echinops ritro
Goldenrod  Solidago spp.
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Liatris Liatris spicata
Lupines Lupinus sp.
Bergemot Monarda spp.
Dogbane Apocynum androsaemifolium
Milkweeds Asclepias spp
Rough False Sunflower Heliopsis helianthoides
Squill Scilla sibirica
Striped Squill  Puschkinia  libanotica
Tickseed Coreopsis lanceolata and C. verticillata
Yarrow Achillea millefolium

Ageratum Ageratum houstonianum
Broccoli  Brassica spp.
Borage Borago officinalis
Cabbage – Brassica spp.
Common Sunflower  Helianthus annuus
Cosmos –Cosmos spp.
Globe Candytuft –Iberis umbellata
Heliotrope  Heliotropium arborescens
Lamb’s Quarters Chenopodium album
Lupines Lupinus hyb
Marigold  Tagetes spp.
Nasturtium Tropaeolum spp.
Nicotiana Nicotiana alata
Petunia  Petunia x hybrida
Salvia  Salvia spp.
Scabiosa  Scabiosa atropurpurea
Snapdragon  Antirrhinum majus
Statice Limonium sinuatum
Sweet Alyssum  Lobularia maritima
Verbena  Verbena spp.
Zinnia  Zinnia spp.


7 Comments to “Planting for Butterflies and Bees”

  1. Great list! You must add borage for bees to your list of annuals! Of every plant in my garden, they seem to favour it the most.

  2. Bee Plant…of course!

  3. Hi Adrian,

    Don’t forget the Coltsfoot (Petasites palmatus) – my patch has 30 flowering stalks at the moment and is covered by a species of Andrena and frequently visited by bumble bees. The flowers will be gone in a few weeks, so it is only good for early spring, but that is when the native bees have the least choice.

    When planted in mass, Scilla sibirica ‘Spring Beauty’ is also highly attractive to bees in the early spring. Mine were covered with Andrena, Bombus, and Nomada this week. Bumble bees seem to like the Striped-Squill too.

    Along with the other mints you list (bergamot, anise hyssop, catmint), I’d add Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) for the front of perennial beds. This does well in sheltered spots and the bees love it. Makes an interesting herb for stews and curries too. If you want some variety in your anise hyssops, Agastache foeniculum ‘aurea’ has beautiful golden foliage.

    Along with your other composites, I’d suggest adding some Tickseeds – Coreopsis lanceolata does well here, as does Threadleaf Tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Golden Showers’ is going on 5 years here). Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida is perennial) and Rough False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) are good bee and butterfly flowers too.

    I’m not sure planting Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a good idea – isn’t it listed as a weed in Alberta? I haven’t checked the new weed list, but dogbane was on the old one.

  4. Coltsfoot, squill, tickseed, Rudbeckia, hyssop and Heliopsis…thanks!

    My squill have been battered by the winds lately, and although they have quite a few little black Osmia bees zooming through the squill patch, I have not seen any attempting to land. Hopefully the wind will die down soon so I can check it out!

    My tickseed has faded from the garden, but do recall it was good for bugs. I think I’ll get some going again this year. And I don’t know how I missed the Heliopsis, because I have quite a few photos of bees and hoverflies on that one.

    My coltsfoot did not survive, with only a few grass shoots in the place where I planted it.

    As for the dogbane, it is native across N.A so I don’t know how it could be labeled as a weed. Perhaps just for agriculture–it is sometimes indicated as being harmful to cattle. I’ll check it out and then do a quick post on Alberta’s current Noxious weeds at the same time.

  5. Dogbane is not on the 2010 list of noxious weeds in Alberta, and it is not listed at

    I found this at CBIF:

    “Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a native herb found across Canada. This plant has been reported to cause serious poisoning potential in cattle, horses, and sheep after ingestion (Johnson and Archer 1922). This information was credited to a report from the Arizona Experiment Station and to an article that was erroneously stated to be about Apocynum. However, that article actually concerned Nerium (oleander) poisoning of livestock. Therefore, the various signs and symptoms attributed to dogbane poisoning since 1922 are usually based on this mistake (Kingsbury 1959).”
    Perhaps it has been removed from the lists because of this?

    • Interesting about the mistaken attribution of livestock poisoning to dogbane. One would like to think that livestock had some sense. Oleander is reputed to be poisonous to bees and children too – although planted all over Brisbane – a fairly infamous plant. Good to know dogbane is no longer a weed, since it pops up on the exposed hillsides at the Moose Pasture and I have no desire to grub it out.

      Don’t give up on the coltsfoot. The pot I overwintered didn’t produce any flowering stalks, but the leaves have just started popping up (I moved it from a shaded bed to a sunny spot). I bet yours will too.

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