Plant Wild-Type or Old-Fashioned Varieties

When planting for pollinators, choose wild-type or old-fashioned varieties. Often as plants are bred to be showier and more ornamental, they lose their ability to produce as much nectar and pollen. This makes them less attractive to pollinators. Ornamental roses are one example of this.

Ornamental roses look very different than their wild cousins. Pollinators tend to prefer the increased nectar and pollen production and the more open flower shape of the wild roses.. Photo credit: TheOtherKev, CC-0

Honey bees and many other pollinators will work wild roses much more than ornamental roses. The rose bushes people typically grow in their gardens look very different than our wild roses. Ornamental roses have much larger, showier petals and more of them. Not only do ornamental roses typically produce less nectar and pollen than wild roses, but all those petals also make it harder for the pollinators to reach any nectar and pollen that is produced. The old-fashioned ornamental roses tend to have more petals than wild-roses, but not as many as some of the more modern ornamental roses. Some old-fashioned rose varieties, therefore, are visited by more pollinators than more modern ornamental roses. Old-fashioned zinnias are also more attractive to pollinators than some of the newer varieties.

It’s not that horticulturalists are trying to make the flowers less attractive to pollinators. It’s just that you can’t breed for everything. You have to focus on one trait and let other things potentially fall to the wayside. Unfortunately, it is often hard to know whether a specific variety of plant has the nectar and pollen production to attract pollinators unless you plant it or know someone who has planted it and paid attention to whether pollinators used that cultivar or variety. That is why concentrating on wild-type (including native plants) or old-fashioned varieties may be your best option if your primary focus is pollinators.

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