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Bees pollinating nectar plants

Nectar Plants

If you enjoy a bustling and buzzing garden, full of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, you might consider growing nectar plants that attract these creatures. No matter which pollinator you're hoping to attract, knowing the nutritional needs of each creature will help you choose the right nectar plant for your garden.

Bees

Many plants produce pollen for bees, but honeybees still need nectar for honey production. Major nectar plants contribute to honey crops that beekeepers produce, but even minor nectar plants are needed as forage to support honeybee populations.

An important note for home gardeners is that yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) has been reported as toxic to honeybees and has weakened colonies in some areas.

Table 1. Select nectar plants for honeybees.

Common Name

Scientific Name

Region
(N- North, C- Central, S- South)

Bloom Time

American Holly

Ilex opeca

N, C, S

Early spring

Black Mangrove

Avicennia germinans, A. nitida

C, S

Jun – Jul

Cabbage Palm

Sabal palmetto

N, C, S

Jun – Jul

Citrus

Various

Depends on variety

Feb – Apr, sometimes Jun

Flat-Topped Goldenrod

Euthamia minor, 
Solidago microcephala

N, C, S

Sept – Nov

Glossy Abelia

Abelia grandiflora

N

 

Saw Palmetto

Serenoa repens.

N, C, S

 

Seagrape

Coccoloba uvifera

C, S

Apr – Jul

Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora

N, C

 

Sweetbay Magnolia

Magnolia virginiana

N, C, S

 

Hummingbirds

Humingbirds need high-energy food to support their high-energy activity and flying. They will use the nectar they feed on quickly, so one hummingbird may visit hundreds of flowers in one day for feeding.

The best nectar plants for attracting hummingbirds have red, orange, or pink flowers. Through trial and error, hummingbirds develop a preference for these colors since most nectar plants often have blossoms that color.

Nesting hummingbirds need nectar from March through September, so choose plants that blossom during that time.

Table 2. Select nectar plants for hummingbirds in Florida.

Common Name

Scientific Name

Region
(N- North, C- Central, 
S- South)

Bloom Time

Butterfly Milkweed

Asclepius tuberosa

N, C

Spring – Fall

Coral Bean

Erythrina herbacea

N, C, S

Spring

Coral Honeysuckle

Lonicera sempervirens

N, C

Spring – Summer

Firebush

Hamelia patens

N, C, S

Spring – Winter

Red Basil

Calamintha coccinea

 

Spring

Red Star Hibiscus

Hibiscus coccineus

N, C, S

Summer – Fall

Scarlet Morning Glory

Ipomea coccinea

 

Summer – Fall

Shrimp Plant

Justicia brandegeana

N, C, S

Spring – Summer

Trumpet Vine

Campsis radicans

N, C

Spring – Summer

Wild Azalea

Rhododendron spp.

N, C

Spring

Butterflies

One difference in attracting butterflies compared to bees and hummingbirds is that they also need larval host plants. While you can attract adults with nectar plants, they tend to hang around spots that are also suitable for their larvae.

This article only addresses nectar plants, but if you are interested in including host plants in your yard, you can find them listed by butterfly species in "Butterfly Gardening of Florida."

Different butterfly species have different preferences in flower color and size and have different feeding behaviors. Providing a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors of flowers will attract a diverse mix of butterfly species.

Table 2. Select nectar plants for butterflies in Florida.

Common Name

Scientific Name

Region
(N- North, C- Central, 
S- South)

Bloom Time

Beach Sunflower

Helianthus debilis

N, C, S

Summer – Fall (all 
year in S. Florida)

Black-Eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

N, C

Summer – Fall

Butterfly Milkweed

Asclepius tuberosa

N, C

Spring – Fall

Buttonbush

Cephalanthus occidentalis

N, C, S

Spring – Summer

Eastern Redbud

Cercis canadensis

N, C

Spring

Firebush

Hamelia patens

N, C, S

Spring – Winter

Purple Coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

N, C

Summer

Red Star Hibiscus

Hibiscus coccineus

N, C, S

Summer – Fall

Salvia (Sage)

Salvia spp.

N, C

Summer – Fall

Wild Azalea

Rhododendron spp.

N, C

Spring

Extrafloral Nectaries (EFN)

Some plants grow nectar-producing glands outside of their flowers. These extrafloral nectaries (EFN) provide an additional food source for hummingbirds, ladybugs and other insects, especially during extreme weather conditions.

For more plant suggestions and questions about landscape plant selections for your area, contact your local Extension agent.

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