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Top 4 Annual Flowers for Pollinators

The top 4 annual flowers for pollinators list actually took awhile to compile. Each spring, summer, and autumn, I spend countless hours observing and photographing insects. These photos are transferred to external drives where I can spend time identifying and separating them into categories.

Once I have everything identified and categorized, then I can go through and look at things like which annuals are preferred by which insects. And I came up with only 4 annual flowers that pollinators really liked to land on. 3 of them represent a large plant family with many different species in North America. The other is a representative of a smaller family in North America, but a large family worldwide.

I will dive into each on of these separately, but tell you what they are now. The top 4 annual flowers for pollinators are:

  • Bitterweed, Helenium amaraum, variety ‘Dakota Gold’
  • Zinnias
  • Brazilian Verbena, Verbena bonariensis
  • Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia

Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’

I do not remember when I first saw this variety in the nursery. But I was immediately excited about its potential. ‘Dakota Gold’ Helenium is a short, tough, drought-hardy annual flower that blooms all summer long with no deadheading. It does have a tendency to reseed itself, making it a great addition to the cottage style garden, or kitchen potager.

Growing just 6 to 8 inches tall and 10 inches wide, it has golden yellow, daisy-like blossoms. I love using it in borders, around tree rings, and in masses, alternated with pink or purple annual flowers. One of the best flowers to plant with it is gomphrena ‘Truffala Pink’.

Now, when it comes to pollinators, this tiny plant from the Asteraceae Family is a powerhouse. Because it blooms all summer, it has the potential to attract a lot of insects. It is native to the southern Great Plains. Below is a collage of photos of insect pollinators on Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’.

insect pollinators of Helenium Dakota Gold

What you will see on these flowers is a lot of butterflies and bees. Moths typically do most of their flying at night, so I only see a few moths on flowers in the daytime.

Zinnias

Zinnias are one of the most popular annual flowers in the garden. They are easy to grow and come in a wide range of colors, flower types, and sizes. I really love the multicolored varieties like ‘Candy Cane’. There is almost every color imaginable, except for black or burgundy. Because most zinnias have wide, flat ray flowers surrounding the inner disc flowers, they make great landing places for pollinators.

zinnias at Sunshine Hill
Zinnias at Sunshine Hill in Atchison County Kansas

My mother-in-law grew the above patch of zinnias in 2020 and every time I was there, there were hundreds of butterflies. What I saw were mainly grass skippers, because there is a remnant prairie across the road from her house. But all butterflies love zinnias. Zinnias can be planted in masses, in rows, borders, or mixed in with other similar sized annual flowers.

pollinators of zinnias

Brazilian Verbena

This is one of my all-time favorite annual flowers, and now they have new varieites! When I was in college at Kansas State University, I remember seeing this flower at the gardens. That is when I first became aware of it, and have since added it to my list of star annuals for Northeast Kansas.

Native to South America, this verbena is a tropical annual flower that is useful in flower arrangements. Plant it in cut flower gardens, in cottage style gardens, or mix it with other annuals like zinnias or gomphrena. The flowers are popular with butterflies and bees alike. ‘Meteor Shower’ is a cultivar that is shorter than the species and works well in borders and flower gardens.

pollinators of verbena bonariensis

Mexican Sunflower

Native to Mexico and Central America, this large annual flower is a great attracter of butterflies. Often called by its genus, Tithonia, the Mexican sunflower is a popular in many gardens. It loves full sun and hot weather, growing 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. There are 2 possible flower colors, either yellow or orange. The orange is my favorite.

Use Mexican sunflowers as a back of the flower border plant, or as a centerpiece in a circular garden design. It really does not need staking, even though it gets tall, just let it fall over where it wants to.

pollinators on tithonia

Conclusion

Using annual flowers in the garden areas is easy and adds interest. Using the top 4 annual flowers for pollinators brings in even more interest. If you love butterflies, using these annual flowers is a must. Try some in your garden this year.

Happy planting!

author of annual flowers

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