Native Plants for West Michigan Pollinators

By Maleah Rakestraw, ASLA


“Save the bees!” is a common mantra chanted by gardeners all across the great state of Michigan. According to Michigan State University’s Michigan Pollinator Initiative, there are over 450 different species of bees in the state. The importance of sustaining bee populations is not lost on the average Michigander, but providing a safe haven and continuous source of food throughout the frost-free months for both bees and other pollinators is an area that can sometimes be overlooked.

The European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is the primary bee used in pollination of agricultural crops, and other native bees or beneficial pollinating insects play a big part in the proliferation of native vegetation. Beetles, butterflies, bats, moths and flies are all excellent pollinators who have coevolved with particular species and are attracted to flowers with varying colors, scents, sizes and shapes. Beetles are one of the oldest known pollinators. Both they and flies prefer strongly fruity, bowl shaped flowers like aster and butterfly weed. Butterflies on the other hand are adapted to flowers with large petals which act as a landing platform and brightly colored blooms. Moths and bats primarily feed at night and are attracted to night blooming and light-colored flowers, like yucca or honeysuckle, which stand out in the darkness.

It’s no secret that native plants support native pollinator populations. Knowing the specificity of plants needed to support the diverse pollinators present in West Michigan, we can wield the available tools and knowledge to help the proliferation of these beneficial insects in our own backyards. The following slideshows present a short list of landscape plants native to West Michigan which can provide food from spring through fall for our pollinating pals.



Early Spring

  • Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
    Wild Geranium is a perennial with attractive purple blooms from April to May. This one to two foot tall plant likes sun and can withstand partial shade, moist soils, and looks fabulous as a border planting or in a woodland garden.




  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
    The red bell-shaped flowers of the Columbine are a site to see in the April and May. Hardy and drought tolerant, these vibrant perennials are a favorite of humming birds and can pack a punch of color in your spring garden.




  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
    One of the most impressive native wildflowers, Butterfly Weed has dense, bright orange blooms all summer long. This showstopping perennial is a low maintenance plant that has adapted to dry soils. Monarch caterpillars enjoy munching on the Butterfly Weed leaves, while a myriad of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and humming birds, are attracted to its nectar.



Late Summer & Fall

  • Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
    With grand architectural height, the Joe Pye Weed looms over most garden variety plants. Reaching up to seven feet in full bloom, this plant provides structure and elegance in any garden setting. Mauve flowers emerge in July and persist through September. For best results, plant in massing so stalks may have support of one another throughout the growing season.