15 Pollinator Plants For Southern Pollinator Gardens

Are you looking for some pollinator plants to add to your southern garden? In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares some of her favorite plants for southern pollinator gardens.

Close up of a butterfly pollinating echinacea wildflowers in a pollinator garden

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For Southern gardeners, finding flowering plants that can handle the heat and still support the bees and butterflies can be difficult. Thankfully, my passion for pollinator gardening has led me to hunt down the best Southern pollinator plants.

There are many different plants you can choose for a beautiful pollinator garden, depending on your local microclimate where you are in the south.

Whether you want to welcome butterflies, hummingbirds, or an abundance of bees, here are 15 plants to create a pollinator paradise even in scorching Southern summers.

Building a Pollinator Garden

The garden is adorned with an array of plants showcasing a splendid variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. Some plants bear light purple blooms that catch the eye, while others flaunt delicate yellow petals that exude elegance. Tall and slender plants stand proudly alongside shorter, bushy ones, creating a picturesque landscape of diversity.
When creating a pollinator garden, certain factors remain consistent across regions.

When building a pollinator garden, a few factors hold true no matter where you are. First, there must be nectar. The pollinators spread the pollen, but they are truly looking for nectar. Nectar is the primary food source for butterflies; and the main energy source for other pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. 

If you want to observe the maximum amount of butterflies through their entire lifecycle, host plants are the second thing a pollinator garden needs. While adult-stage butterflies dine primarily upon the nectar of flowering plants, their larvae have a different diet that consists mainly of leaves from one or more host plants. 

Finally, a water source is an essential part of a pollinator garden. These tiny creatures expend tremendous energy collecting their food, so they need a spot to rest and hydrate. A birdbath or a bowl filled with pebbles and water will work just fine. If there is movement in the water, it will be especially appealing. 

Here in the South, we are fortunate to have a nice long pollinator season. The bees are always here; they begin to come out of hiding for the first blooms of spring. Butterflies and hummingbirds show up mid-spring when the weather warms up.

Here is a list of my top 11 Southern pollinator plants. These are my tried-and-true pollinator plants that continue to bring my little flying friends to the garden year after year.

African Blue Basil

A close-up of African Blue Basil flowers. Adorning the stem are clusters of dainty flowers, painted in shades of lavender and purple. Each bloom stands tall on its long stem.
In zones 10-12, African Blue Basil is an excellent nectar source for various pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum ‘Dark Opal’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 18”-24”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-12

Without fail, African Blue Basil is always one of the top-visited plants in my garden. In particular, it attracts an abundance of bumble bees and honey bees to its pretty purple flowers. Bees are partial to flowers in the blue and purple color family. Their vision differs from ours because they see ultraviolet light. Blue hues reflect the greatest amount of UV light. 

‘African Blue’ is a hybrid variety of basil with a shrubby growth habit, small green leaves with purple veining, and purple stems that support clusters of small white and purple flowers. This herb is fragrant but not as flavorful as some other types of basil, so it is not typically the best type to grow for culinary use. 

African Blue Basil is an excellent nectar source for all kinds of pollinators. The herb is considered an annual in all but zones 10-12. However, I am in zone 8 and my largest plant came back this spring!

American Beautyberry

A close-up of American Beautyberry flowers reveal their enchanting allure. Nestled near the stem bud, clusters of small, delicate pink blooms bloom in pink color. A green leaf gracefully embraces the stem, providing a contrasting backdrop to the exquisite floral display.
It attracts both the Spring Azure butterfly and the Snowberry Clearwing moth with its foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Callicarpa americana
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
height height 6’-10’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7-11

Beautyberry is a wonderful plant for anyone who wants to draw wildlife to their garden. The foliage plays host to both the spring azure butterfly, as well as the snowberry clearwing and rustic sphinx moths. If you are unfamiliar with the latter, this adorable moth looks like a bumblebee with large, translucent wings. It’s a lovely creature.

In early summer, American beautyberry blooms with a mass of clusters of tiny pink flowers, a nectar-rich source of food for bees. When pollinated, these flowers will drop to reveal berries that start green and ripen to a rich magenta by late summer. These beautiful berries provide food for a range of birds, including the Northern bobwhite.

The berries are also edible to humans, and I’m told that, while tart, they make a gorgeous jar of jam. They do spread and can grow very large over a relatively short time. This is a deciduous perennial that is native and tolerates the heat of southern states. It thrives in full sun as well as part shade.

Anise Hyssop

Anise Hyssops feature delicate purple blossoms with tiny petals that form intricate patterns. Lush green leaves surround the flowers. The sturdy stems, tinged with hues of maroon, proudly support this botanical masterpiece.
Once established, this pollinator plant can be generously shared with others.
botanical-name botanical name Agastache foeniculum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 2’-4’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

Humans have long used anise hyssop for various applications. Its leaves emit a wonderful, spicy fragrance. Bees love this plant, and it readily reseeds itself so that it returns year after year. I often have to thin out the seedlings these plants create, as they are always plentiful. This is a pollinator plant that you can share generously after the first year. 

Pollinators of all types will visit this plant. It will absolutely be a favorite in the garden for many types of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths.

Anise hyssop reaches about 4 feet tall and is topped by clusters of purple flowers with a fuzzy appearance. It is drought-tolerant and very easy to care for. While it dies back to the ground in a freeze, it is a hardy perennial that will return year after year.

Blue Mistflower

A close-up of Blue Mistflower flowers with radiant blue petals forming a dense cluster and creating a stunning burst of color. The dainty blooms, reminiscent of a starry night, attract bees and butterflies with their sweet nectar.
Given its spreading tendency, planting Blue Mistflower in a spacious area that allows unrestricted growth is advisable.
botanical-name botanical name Conoclinium coelestinum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Sun
height height 1’-3’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-11

This little flower made its way into my garden organically. That is, it might be called a weed in some circles. For me, if the monarchs love something the way they love this little plant, it’s a treasure.

A small bit of seed must have blown into my garden, and found a spot in a hanging pot. It has lovely blue flowers, so I left it alone. As it turns out, the butterflies adore it. 

Blue Mistflower is a member of the Aster family of flowering perennials, all of which are great pollinator plants. This one, in particular, is a nectar source for monarchs. The leaves and stems are bright green and delicate, and the flowers look like pale blue clusters of fuzz up top. These plants have a tendency to spread rapidly, so plant them in a space where they can be kept in check.

Butterfly Bush

A close-up of Butterfly Bush reveals clusters of delicate, vibrant flowers in pink color, standing out against the backdrop of green leaves. The slender branches display a graceful arching form, adorned with an abundance of blossoms.
The Butterfly Bush, a low-maintenance and resilient plant, thrives in well-drained soil with moderate moisture.
botanical-name botanical name Buddleja
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height up to 15’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-9

The name says it all with Butterfly Bush. This lovely flowering shrub produces large panicles of brightly colored flowers that provide an abundant source of nectar for pollinators. They prefer full sun and will flower best in this type of light.

In warmer climates, they are perennials that need little more than a gentle shaping from time to time. In colder climates, they will die back in winter but return in early spring.

Butterfly Bush is a hardy plant that doesn’t need much care. It likes well-drained soil and moisture, but the plants are surprisingly drought-tolerant.

This low-maintenance plant produces a great number of flowers and is an attractive pollinator favorite. It also comes in dozens of unique varieties.

Cuphea

A close-up of Cuphea showcases charming tubular flowers that are pink in color. The petals have a velvety texture, while the center of the flower is adorned with contrasting stamens. The glossy leaves, arranged in pairs, create a lush background, adding to the plant's allure.
They efficiently utilize the space provided without becoming invasive or encroaching on neighboring plants.
botanical-name botanical name Cuphea
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 1’-3’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 8-11

Cuphea is a highly heat-tolerant flowering plant that will draw butterflies and hummingbirds to your Southern pollinator garden. It grows well in the ground as well as in hanging baskets. The long tubular flowers are perfect for hummingbirds, but you’re unlikely to see any bees visiting these flowers because their tongues are not long enough to access the pollen. 

This flowering perennial comes in many different colors. Some plants are low and sprawling, while others have an upright habit. They are very easy to care for and don’t spread easily. While they will maximize the space you give them, they won’t become invasive or infringe on your other plants.

Fennel

A close-up of Fennel displaying delicate, umbrella-shaped clusters of tiny yellow flowers. The flowers form at the top of tall, sturdy stems, adding a touch of elegance to the plant. The stems are hollow and ridged, featuring a pale green hue that complements the feathery, fern-like foliage.
Fennel is prominent in the Southern pollinator garden due to its distinct fragrance and taste.
botanical-name botanical name Foeniculum vulgare
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height up to 6’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

Another herb that has a firm place in the Southern pollinator garden is fennel. This relative of the carrot family has a sweet and spicy smell and flavor. Fennel does flower, but its small yellow flowers are not the main attraction for pollinators.

As a host plant, fennel is a food source for Black Swallowtail larvae. In the butterfly world, larvae is another name for caterpillars. You will draw these beautiful butterflies to your garden by growing this plant. Keep fennel in a container for best results.

Lantana

A close-up of Lantana reveals vibrant, multi-colored flowers clustered together in profusion. The blooms vary in shades of red, orange, yellow, and pink, creating a dazzling display. In the blurred background, lush green leaves provide a verdant contrast, enhancing the overall beauty of the composition.
They produce flowers in small, round clusters that come in various colors and combinations.
botanical-name botanical name Lantana
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height up to 6’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7-12

If you love butterflies, you will adore Lantana. While it is typically grown as a shrub or creeping ground cover, this genus has several different types and growth habits. This is one of my most reliable perennial plants in the pollinator garden. It grows quickly and flowers consistently from spring until fall. It has a sharp, pungent, citrus scent.

Lantana has small, serrated leaves that resemble mint. However, they are members of the Verbena family. The flowers grow in small, round clusters and can be any number of colors or combinations. I love the two-tone varieties, but my favorite is a pretty lavender color.

Lavender

Several lavenders showcase slender stems adorned with purple flowers that form tight clusters. The narrow, gray-green leaves, arranged in an alternating pattern along the stems, contribute to the plant's distinctive charm, completing the picturesque scene.
Many gardeners struggle to maintain lavender, possibly due to excessive care.
botanical-name botanical name Lavandula
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 1’-3’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-9

Lavender is a familiar plant to almost everyone these days. This classic herb has a unique fragrance to its leaves and flowers. You can grow it from seed, but starting with cuttings or a transplant is easier.

I hear many gardeners say that they struggle to keep lavender alive, and my best guess is that they love it to death. You see, lavender likes poor soil and is drought-and-heat-tolerant. It likes to be neglected and has little need for fertilizer

Lavender has long been a favorite among beekeepers, as it lends its famous fragrance to the honey bees make from its sweet nectar. Bees, especially honey bees, are very attracted to lavender’s fragrant, purple flowers. Bumble bees and butterflies will also enjoy this flower.

Milkweed

A close-up of Milkweed reveals clusters of vibrant, star-shaped flowers with orange hues. The broad, lance-shaped leaves feature a light green color and fine, visible veins. The sturdy branches extend outward, providing support for the blossoms and foliage.
If you live above zone 8, avoid growing tropical milkweed in your pollinator garden.
botanical-name botanical name Asclepias
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height up to 5’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-11

I’m about to say something controversial about milkweed, and you can take it or leave it. In the best interest of the butterflies, if you live above zone 8, you should avoid growing the imported tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) in your pollinator garden.

This is the tall milkweed with bright red and orange flowers. Monarchs migrate to Mexico for the winter, and tropical milkweed can confuse monarchs into reproducing when they shouldn’t. 

Instead, plant North American native milkweed. Here in Florida, we call it swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which is shorter than its tropical cousin. The flowers are usually white, pink, or gold. However, there are many native milkweed varieties in the United States, depending on your region – other excellent choices include common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) or narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis).

Regardless of the native species of milkweed that you’re planting, if you want to bring monarchs to your garden and give them the right food at the right time, a milkweed is the plant you want to look for. 

Milkweed is both a nectar source and a host plant for monarchs. You don’t plant milkweed because it is a pretty plant. If you’ve ever grown it, you know it will be nothing but a bundle of sticks with flowers on top for most of the summer.

Monarchs lay their eggs on the stems and underside of the leaves, and when the larvae hatch, they quickly eat the foliage. It typically grows back just in time for another generation of larvae to take it down again.

Passion Vine

A close-up of Passion Vine showcases a breathtaking flower with intricate details. The blossom features multiple layers of petals in shades of lavender and violet, creating a mesmerizing effect. The leaves are large and dark green, provide a striking contrast against the vibrant bloom.
Passion Vine is the perfect choice for attracting numerous butterflies to your yard.
botanical-name botanical name Passiflora
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Sun
height height 10’-30’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6-10

If you want to draw an abundance of butterflies to your yard, passion vine is the way to go. Also referred to as the passion flower vine, butterflies flock to this plant. It’s not always for the reason you would think, though. True, most varieties of this plant produce large, showy flowers, which are a good nectar source. However, the main attraction here is the foliage. 

Passion vine is a host plant for gulf fritillary, variegated fritillary, and zebra longwing butterflies. I have often stood and watched as my vine seemed to be fluttering as a half dozen or more zebra longwings danced about the leaves looking for a prime egg-laying spot. When the eggs hatch, these two insects spend their larval stage munching on Passiflora’s tender leaves. 

Most varieties of passion vines produce flowers and edible fruit. The flowers will draw other types of butterflies and hummingbirds, and other birds will come for the fruit if left on the vine. 

Porterweed

A close-up of Porterweed with stunning flowers arranged in dense clusters, bursting with vibrant hues of blue. The elongated leaves, rich green in color, possess a slightly serrated edge, giving them a unique texture. The slender stems, adorned with small hairs, provide sturdy support for the blooms.
Its slender stems bear attractive blue flowers with ample nectar.
botanical-name botanical name Stachytarpheta
sun-requirements sun requirements Part Sun
height height 4’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 8-11 as a perennial, North as an annual 

Porterweed is, in my experience, the quintessential hummingbird attractor in a pollinator garden. I have a porterweed next to my porch, and the hummingbirds love it so much they will dine while I sit mere feet away.

It is irresistible to these sweet little birds. If you’re a hummingbird lover, your pollinator garden should definitely contain this plant. 

Porterweed is a tall, shrubby plant that acts as a perennial in zone 8 and warmer and as an annual elsewhere. Its long, thin stems are topped with spikes of pretty blue, nectar-rich flowers.

It is a very low-maintenance plant that dies back in the winter but will regrow back to its full height by the end of summer. It will tolerate full sun if it gets enough moisture but prefers to have some protection from the afternoon heat.

Purple Coneflower

A close-up of Purple Coneflower showcases captivating flowers with a distinctive cone-shaped center and vibrant petals that radiate outward. The petals are a stunning shade of pink, creating a striking contrast against the brownish-green stems. The sturdy stems rise elegantly, supporting the enchanting blossoms.
Echinacea is widely used by humans and pollinators.
botanical-name botanical name Echinacea purpurea
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 2’-4’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

Coneflowers of all kinds are wonderful additions to the pollinator garden, as they are great nectar producers. If you recall, purple is a particularly attractive color to bees, so the purple coneflower is an excellent plant to keep around. These relatives of ragweed and sunflowers are commonly used in herbal teas.

In the garden, purple coneflowers will draw a variety of bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Fritillaries, painted ladies, monarchs, and swallowtails are all attracted to Echinacea as well. This is a well-rounded plant to provide to your winged friends. 

Sweet Almond Bush

A close-up of Sweet Almond Bush reveals clusters of delicate flowers that are white in color, beautifully arranged along sturdy stems. The elongated, dark green leaves provide an appealing backdrop to the blossoms. The stems, covered in fine hairs, add an intriguing texture to this captivating plant.
The Sweet Almond Bush emits a delightful fragrance reminiscent of high-quality almond soap, which spreads far on windy days.
botanical-name botanical name Aloysia virgata 
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
height height up to 15’
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 8-11

If porterweed is my number one entry for hummingbird plants, sweet almond bush is my number one for bees. When Aloysia virgata blooms, it is always covered with bees. Both honeybees and wild bees love this plant, but perhaps none as well as the bumblebees. 

In zones 10-11, sweet almond bush will reach a small tree height and grow as an evergreen. Farther north, it will die back in the winter but is a fast grower and can reach 8’-10’ in one season. It does well in full sun or part shade and is drought-tolerant. 

The best thing about sweet almond bush is its flowers’ wonderful fragrance. The smell is that of fine almond soap, and it carries a long way on a breezy day. The flowers appear in the summer and will continue to bloom until the first freeze.

Virginia Pepperweed

A close-up of Virginia Pepperweed displays clusters of tiny, delicate white flowers that create a charming, airy appearance. The flowers are borne atop slender stems, adding elegance to the plant. The vibrant green leaves provide a striking contrast against the delicate blossoms.
It freely emerges in various locations and may be challenging to locate at a nursery.
botanical-name botanical name Lepidium virginicum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Sun
height height 6”-20”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7-11

This last plant is commonly considered a weed, but it’s actually a butterfly host plant with edible seeds! Virginia pepperweed is an unassuming little plant that pops up wherever it pleases. It might be challenging to find at a nursery, but if you see a bit of it in your garden, resist the urge to pull it up.

Virginia pepperweed hosts the great southern white butterfly and the checkered white butterfly. Leave it in the garden to see these two delicate butterflies visit, and their larvae will feast on the foliage.

Pepperweed is a member of the mustard family, its leaves and seeds are edible to humans, but be careful not to snack on any plants if you aren’t 100% certain you can identify them.

Final Thoughts

There is something special about the peace and stillness of blooming plants that invites so many beneficial creatures into the garden. My adventures as a beekeeper have brought me an even deeper appreciation of how these industrious little workers create that sticky, sweet honey that is both a food and a natural remedy for humans.

Naturally, my pollinator garden started with monarchs and grew to include host plants for many butterflies. From there grew a deep affection for bumble bees, with their fuzzy bodies collecting pollen sprinkles as they feast on sweet flower nectar. Finally, in came the hummingbirds with their spectacular tiny fluttering wings.

I’ve found that a combination of host plants, nectar plants, and a water source is the foundation for a pollinator paradise. Including these plants in your Southern pollinator garden will have birds, bees, and butterflies flocking to your yard. While at it, incorporate some vegetables or fruit trees for a greater harvest. These pollinator favorites all make great companion plants.

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