Invertebrate Conservation Fact Sheet – Upper Midwest Plants For Native Bees (edited)

From The Xerces Society

In such a short fact sheet it is not possible to give detailed lists of suitable plants for all areas of the Upper Midwest. Below are two lists of good bee plants, the first of native plants and the second of garden plants. Both are short lists; there are many more bee-friendly plants. However, these lists, combined with the following notes, will get you started on selecting good bee plants. Your local chapters of the Wild Ones, the Native Plant Society and native plant nurseries are worthwhile contacts for advice on choosing, obtaining, and caring for local plant species.

Use local native plants. Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers. In gardens, heirloom varieties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.

Chose several colors of flowers. Flower colors that particularly attract native bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.

Plant flowers in clumps. Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered through the habitat patch. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.

Include flowers of different shapes. Bees are all different sizes, have different tongue lengths, and will feed on different shaped flowers. Consequently, providing a range of flower shapes means more bees can benefit.

Have a diversity of plants flowering all season. By having several plant species flowering at once, and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, you can support a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season.

Native plants should be your first choice to help our native bees. Listed below are some plants that are good sources of nectar and pollen for bees. This list is not exhaustive; there are many other plants good for bees. Individual species have not been included. Not all of these genera will have species in your local area, but they do represent plants that will grow in a variety of environments. Use a wildflower guide or contact local nurseries to find your local species.

  • Aster (Aster)
  • Lupine (Lupinus)
  • Beebalm (Monarda)
  • Milkweed (Asclepias)
  • Blazing star (Liatris)
  • New Jersey tea (Ceanothus)
  • Cup plant (Silphium)
  • Obedient plant (Physostegia)
  • Wild indigo (Baptisia)
  • Penstemon (Penstemon)
  • Fireweed (Chamerion)
  • Prairie clover (Dalea)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Giant hyssop (Agastache)
  • Rattlesnake master (Eryngium)
  • Ironweed (Vernonia)
  • Spiderwort (Tradescantia)
  • Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium)
  • Steeplebush (Spiraea)
  • Leadplant (Amorpha)
  • Sunflower (Helianthus)
  • Lobelia (Lobelia)
  • Willow (Sax)

Flower beds in gardens, business campuses, and parks are great places to have bee-friendly plants. Native plants will create a beautiful garden but some people prefer “garden” plants. Many garden plants are varieties of native plants. This list includes plants from other countries—”exotic” plants—and should be used as a supplement to the native plant list. As with the native plants, this list is far from exhaustive.

  • Basil (Ocimum)
  • Oregano/marjoram (Origanum)
  • Borage (Borago)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
  • Catmint (Nepeta)
  • Russian sage (Perovskia)
  • Cosmos (Cosmos)
  • Spearmint (Mentha)

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