March 1, 2018
By Rodger J. Tschanz and Nigel E. Raine

Why should we care about conserving pollinators? Roughly one in three mouthfuls of food we eat depend on the pollination services of insects. Almost 90 per cent of flowering plant species worldwide rely on animals and insects for pollination, making pollinators (particularly wild bees) an essential part of natural ecosystems.

Reports surrounding global pollinator declines raise concerning issues of reduced agricultural productivity (due to pollination deficits) and reduced biodiversity and sustainability in natural ecosystems. In short, pollinators are beautiful, fascinating, diverse and essential creatures that we cannot afford to lose.

Thousands of annual and perennial plants have been grown and examined since the University of Guelph began its Trial Garden Program in 2001. Here, we highlight 10 ornamental plants for your garden that appeal to both pollinators and humans alike.

Smooth Oxeye: ‘Burning Heart’

‘Burning Heart’ is another daisy-like flower with yellow-orange bi-coloured flowers. The bloom period for this plant is quite long, lasting from late June until frost, attracting butterflies, bees and other pollinators. It is hardy in southern Ontario but is considered to be a short-lived perennial; however, it will self-seed and persist in the garden. ‘Burning Heart’ is ideal for perennial borders and makes a great cut flower.

Butterfly Weed: ‘Silky Mix’

‘Silky Mix’ is very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Monarch butterflies will lay eggs on this plant as it is a ready food source for their caterpillars. It is also a very attractive ornamental that can be grown in beds or containers and used as a cut flower. The umbels are a mixture of red and gold.

Zinnia: ‘Queeny Lime Orange’

Zinnia is a popular garden plant that produces showy flowers that appeal to both gardeners as well as bees and butterflies. The petal colour of ‘Queeny Lime Orange’ ranges from green tinted dark coral peach to light peach. It makes a great cutflower because of its long stems and its 2-3 week vase life.

Brown-eyed Susan: ‘Prairie Glow’

‘Prairie Glow’ produces many branches and blooms with scores of small daisy-type flowers in late summer into the early fall. The inflorescence has a dark chocolate button centre surrounded by burnt orange petals with yellow tips. During its blooming period it is attractive to pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and following bloom the seeds are attractive to birds.

Showy Stonecrop: ‘Pure Joy’

When in full bloom in the late summer, bees constantly visit ‘Pure Joy’ flowers. The colour of this showy stonecrop ranges from pale pink to dark carmine and foliage and stem colour can range from light green to purple/bronze. ‘Pure Joy’ can be used to edge flowerbeds or sidewalks, or in rock gardens.

Coneflower: ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

Like many Echinacea cultivars, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is highly attractive to pollinators. A package of ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ seed can produce plants that have red, pink, yellow, orange, purple or white looms. Consider mass planting ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ to allow all the flower colours to mingle together in the landscape.

Sunflower: ‘Sunfinity’

Sunflowers are always a summer favourite for the garden and for use as cut flowers. The down side to the traditional sunflower is its short bloom period. Not anymore. ‘Sunfinity’ re-blooms all season, producing small, nectar-rich inflorescences that attract pollinators, including bees. Also, the seed head effectively functions as a living, refillable bird feeder in fall.

Wax Begonia: ‘Topspin’

‘Topspin’ is a series of wax begonia with green leaves and red, white, pink or rose flower colours. While wax begonia is not known for attracting bees, many honeybees collected pollen from ‘Topspin Pink's’ male flowers during the 2016 trial season.

Tickseed: ‘Campfire Fireburst’

‘Campfire Fireburst’ has orange, flame coloured flowers, and petals that are yellow at the centre with orange tips. Like other Bidens cultivars, this plant is low growing and will spread across the soil surface or mingle attractively with other plant types in a mixed container. Attractive to bees, ‘Campfire Fireburst’ is heat tolerant and will bloom reliably from spring until frost — making it particularly good for autumn themed container designs.

Salvia: ‘Rockin’ Playin’ the Blues’

‘Rockin’ Playin’ the Blues’ attracts bees, hummingbirds and butterflies with its tall and long inflorescences of purple/blue flowers. Well-suited for containers or garden beds, this salvia blooms steadily all summer and into the fall.

For more information on the importance of pollinators, and ongoing research at the University of Guelph to conserve and support these critical components of our ecosystem, please visit the Raine lab website For more information about the University of Guelph’s Trial Garden program please visit:

Rodger J. Tschanz is a research technician with the department of plant agriculture and the trial garden manager at the University of Guelph.

Nigel E. Raine is a professor in the school of environmental sciences and the Rebanks Family Chair in Pollinator Conservation at the University of Guelph. Follow Nigel on Twitter (@NigelERaine)