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What flower shape and color are best for pollinators?

Updated: Mar 19

Pollinators are good for your garden and the planet. We can all agree on that.

But are there certain shapes and colors you should go for to attract even more of these helpful creatures to your garden?

The answer is yes. Certain flower shapes do attract more pollinators than others. The same goes for color — some colors are just more popular than others (except red… but we’ll dive into that later).

Ready to grow a pollinator-friendly garden? Here’s everything you need to know about flower shape and color and what to plant to turn your borders and containers into happening spots for pollinators of all types.

How flower shape and structure influence pollination

Planting a variety of flowers in your garden and flower beds isn’t just pretty to look at, it’s also vitally important for pollinators.

Different flower shapes and structures are adapted to attract specific pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, or beetles. Here’s how…

1. Flower shape

The shape of a flower influences pollination by making it easier or harder for certain pollinators to reach the flower’s reproductive organs. That means that certain flowers are just easier for bees and other pollinators to get inside.

Take a snapdragon or trumpet lily for example. These tubular flowers are created to be accessed by long-tongued pollinators such as hummingbirds or butterflies.

Now think about a small, shallow flower like a daisy or a strawberry flower. The reproductive parts are easy to reach and can be accessed by short-tongued pollinators like bees.

2. Flower structure

Flower structure and flower shape aren’t the same thing.

Here, we’re talking about how some flowers have large, showy petals that attract the attention of pollinators from a distance. Compare that to other flowers with small, inconspicuous petals that a whole different group of insects enjoys — the quiet ones that don’t like bright colors.

The same goes for flower smell.

Flowers with a strong scent have adapted to attract pollinators that rely on their sense of smell to locate flowers. And then there are other flowers with little or no scent. These are usually pollinated by insects that locate flowers using visual cues alone.

3. Flower color

The color of a flower also plays a super important role in attracting pollinators. For example, flowers that are brightly colored and contrast with their surroundings are more likely to be noticed by pollinators.

Flowers that are more muted in color may be less likely to be seen by pollinators, making it harder for them to be pollinated.

Pollinators and flower shape — what likes what

Obviously, we gardeners love to look at and grow flowers… but it’s incredible to think about how insects and pollinators see them and what sets them apart.

Pollinators such as bees and butterflies prefer flowers with a landing platform such as a flat or slightly concave shape, while hummingbirds prefer trumpet-shaped or tubular flowers.

Here are a few more examples:

  • Bees — These little guys prefer flowers with a landing platform such as a flat or slightly concave shape, like daisies, sunflowers, and asters. They also like easily accessible nectar and pollen, such as flowers with shallow or wide petals.

  • Butterflies — These beautifully colored insects like flowers that have a landing platform such as a flat or slightly concave shape, like daisies, zinnias, and coneflowers.

  • Hummingbirds — As I mentioned above, hummingbirds are usually attracted to trumpet-shaped or tubular flowers, such as trumpet vine, bee balm, and fuchsia.

  • Moths — Moths prefer flowers that are white or pale so they are easily seen at night. They also need flowers that open at night and have a strong fragrance. Some examples include moonflower, jasmine, and four o'clock flowers.

With all of the different preferences flying around your garden, it’s a good idea to grow plants with different shapes, sizes, and colors. Think of it as growing a buffet — something for everyone.

Here’s my list of my favorite perennials to attract pollinators.

Also, to get the most pollinators in your garden, be sure that you pay attention to blooming times. That way you'll have something growing all year. This is especially important if you’re hoping to use flowers to attract pollinators to your vegetable or fruit garden.

What are the best flower colors to attract more pollinators

Whether they’re easier to locate or, like me, they just like brightly colored flowers, most pollinators are attracted to plants with vibrant, vivid colors.

Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, are known to prefer brightly colored flowers that are blue, purple, yellow, or orange.

These colors are believed to be more visible to pollinators, making it easier for them to locate. A study published in "Proceedings of the Royal Society B" in 2008 suggests that the blue and ultraviolet (UV) colors of flowers are particularly attractive to bees. Bees can detect these better than others because of the specific types of photoreceptor cells in their eyes.

A fascinating study published in the journal "Ecology" in 2004 found that bumblebees prefer blue and yellow flowers, while honey bees prefer yellow and blue-green flowers.

Another study published in the journal "Oecologia" in 2002 found that hummingbirds prefer red and orange flowers.

Some researchers think that the bright colors of flowers act as a signal to pollinators, indicating the presence of high-quality nectar or pollen.

Keep in mind that it’s not just color alone that attracts pollinators. The shape, smell, and temperature of the flowers along with certain floral patterns and ultraviolet nectar guides (visible to the pollinator but not to the human eye) also play a huge role.

Bees can’t see red

Did you know that bees can’t see red? They can see a whole range of colors, but not red.

Don’t feel sorry for them though. They can see ultraviolet light, which is outside of the visible spectrum for humans… so they’re doing great.

They can see blue and green but have difficulty distinguishing between red and other colors like brown, orange and yellow. That’s why, if bees are your goal, plant blue, purple, pink and other brightly colored flowers.

Bees have 3 types of photoreceptors in their eyes, allowing them to see different wavelengths of light. Bees can still detect the color red through the perception of polarized light, which is a specific way light waves oscillate.

That sounds super technical… but it basically means that they can still locate certain flowers like bottle brush bush (Callistemon) that have a red polarized signal.

Even though bees can't see red as well as other colors, it doesn't mean that red flowers won't be visited by bees. Not at all.

Some red flowers have nectar guides, which are patterns that guide the bee to the flower's nectar. And some other red flowers have a UV pattern that makes them more attractive for the bees.

What does it all mean?

It’s a lot. I get it.

What all of the research and science points to is this — if you want more pollinators in your garden, plant a variety of different flowers.

The more the better.

The brighter the colors, the better.

And to really attract pollinators, go with native plants that are local to your area and plant perennials that flower early -- like Hellebores. Happy growing!


Welcome to my garden

Hi! I'm Lars (Denmark).

Thanks for joining me as I share tips and inspiration for perennial gardening. 

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