Feeding Pollinators for Food Security
Choosing the Right Plants for Our Food Supply

When it comes to plant types and food on the table, the more the merrier.
In June, I love to eat strawberries. In July, it’s potato salad and hamburgers. In the fall, please give me apple pie, turkey and gravy. As we move through the year, seasonal produce offerings and traditions influence what we eat as people.

Whether you realize it or not, pollinators – bees, wasps, bats, beetles, flies, moths, butterflies – are the reason we get to eat, and they are in danger of collapse.

Apply our expectations of seasonal availability and traditions, but add in the idea of survival.

Pollinators do not get to choose what they need at the time they need it, they can only pollinate what nature provides. We are stamping out their food supply by getting rid of plants and trees completely, or planting things that do not grow here naturally.

According to the Penn State Extension, one in every three bites of food is pollinator powered. To keep both us and pollinators eating, we need to help. Changing how we manage our yards is a small step that creates a big positive impact. Think native wildflowers, trees and shrubs in place of mowed lawns and nonnative plants.

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Crops that Need Pollinators

Legumes and relatives Beans, Cowpea, Lima Beans, Lupines, Mung Bean/Green or Golden Gram, Soybean
Vegetables Artichoke, Asparagus, Beet, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cantaloupes, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Celery, Cucumber, Eggplant, Endive, Green Pepper, Leek, Lettuce, Okra, Onion, Parsnip, Pumpkin, Radish, Rutabaga, Squash, Tomato, Turnip, White Gourd
Fruits, berries and nuts Almonds, Apple, Apricot, Avocado, Blackberry, Blueberry, Cacao, Cashew, Cherry, Chestnut, Citrus, Coffee, Coconut, Crabapple, Cranberry, Currant, Date, Fig, Gooseberry, Grapes, Guava, Huckleberry, Kiwi, Kolanut, Litchi, Macadamia, Mango, Olive, Papaw, Papaya, Passionfruit, Peach, Pear, Persimmon, Plum, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Strawberry, Tung, Vanilla, Watermelon
Herbs and spices Allspice, Anise, Black Pepper, Caraway, Cardamon, Chive, Clove, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, Lavender, Mustard, Nutmeg, Parsley, Pimento, Tea, White Pepper
Oils, seeds and grains Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Canola, Flax, Oil Palm, Safflower, Sesame, Sunflower
Clover and relatives Alsike Clover, Arrowleaf Clover, Ball Clover, Berseem Clover, Black Medic/Yellow Trefoil, Cider Milkvetch, Crimson Clover, Lespedeza, Peanut, Persian Clover, Red Clover, Rose Clover, Strawberry Clover, Subterranean Clover, Sweet Clover, Trefoil, Vetch, White Clover
Other Cotton, Kenaf

Native Plants Support Pollinators
Planting native plants is important, and equally important is selecting plants that offer ‘meals’ for different pollinators throughout the growing season. Pollinators are very important, so how do we support them? The answer is native plants, trees and shrubs and lots of them.

Native plants provide two essential functions:
  1. Support many pollinators as a food source, which nonnative plants are unable to provide
  2. Provide sources of food throughout the growing season for different pollinators
Beyond providing the seasonal needs for different pollinators, native plants also support many pollinators. (Source: Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy)

Native Woody Plant Genera
Common Name Plant Genus # of Butterfly/Moth Species Supported
Oak Quercus 534
Black Cherry Prunus 456
Willow Salix 455
Birch Betula 413
Poplar Populus 368
Crabapple Malus 311
Blueberry Vaccinium 288
Maple Acer 285
Elm Ulmus 231
Pine Pinus 203
Hickory Carya 200
Hawthorn Cratageus 159
Spruce Picea 156
Alder Alnus 156
Basswood Tilia 150
Filbert Corylus 131
Walnut Juglans 130
Beech Fagus 126
Native Herbaceous Plant Genera
Common Name Plant Genus # of Butterfly/Moth Species Supported
Goldenrod Solidago 115
Asters Aster 112
Sunflower Helianthus 73
Joe Pye, Boneset Eupatorium 42
Sedges Carex 36
Lupine Lupinus 33
Violets Viola 29
Geraniums Geranium 23
Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia 17
Evening Primrose Oenothera 16
Milkweed Asclepias 12
Verbena Verbena 11
Beardtongue Penstemon 8
Phlox Phlax 8
Bee Balm Monarda 7
Little Bluestem Schizachyrium 6
Cardinal Flower Lobelia 4

Get Started on a Menu for Local Pollinators
Different pollinators need to drink nectar or eat pollen from different plants. Planting a variety of flowers, shrubs and trees can turn your yard into a colorful and beautiful space while helping to feed all the pollinators that visit. The more types of plants, the better. For instance, plant Phlox for spring, Purple Coneflower for summer and Goldenrod for late summer into fall. Of course, your selection depends on what you want as a property owner and your property’s light and soil conditions. Many guides are available on selecting plants that will thrive on your property, but here is a snapshot of native PA plants to consider to get started on a menu for your local pollinators:


Common Name Scientific Name Season
Aster Aster Late summer to autumn
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa Early to late summer
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Midsummer
Goldenrod Solidago Midsummer to autumn
Ironweed Vernonia fasciculata Late summer
Milkweed Asclepias syriaca L. Early spring to summer
Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum maticum Mid to late summer
Phlox Phlox Spring
Wild Bergamot Fistulosa Late summer


Common Name Scientific Name Season
American Hazelnut Corylus americana Early spring
Arrow-wood Viburnum Viburnum dentatum Late spring
Black Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa Spring
Blueberries Vaccinium Late spring
Buttonbush Cephalanthus accidentalis Early spring
New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americanus Spring to summer
Pagoda Dogwood Cornus alternifolia Late spring
Red-osier Dogwood Cornus sericea Late spring
Spicebush Lindera benzoin Early spring
Winterberry Illex verticillata Late spring to summer


Common Name Scientific Name Season
Blackgum Nyssa sylvatica Spring
Chestnut Oak Quercus montana Late spring
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida Late spring
Hop-hornbeam Ostrya virginiana Spring
Red Bud Cercis canadensis Spring
Red Maple Acer rubrum Early spring
Sassafrass Sassafras albidum Spring
Sugar Maple Acer saccharum Spring
Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipfera Spring
Witch-hazel Hamamelis virginiana Late summer to fall

For All of the Streamside Property Owners Out There
Streamside, or riparian buffers, are critical for countless reasons. The strip of vegetation that runs alongside waterways can also serve as a food source for pollinators. There are many types of trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers, some of which are listed above, which will fit the bill.


PA DCNR: Landscaping with Native Plants

Franklin and Marshall College: The Importance of Pollinators

Penn State Extension Master Pollinator Certification

U.S. Forest Service: Growing Plants for Pollinators in the Northeast

Penn State Extension: What Does a Pollinator Friendly Garden Look Like?

Wildlife Connections: Moths and Butterflies