Plants, like animals, must create offspring for the next generation.

Zebra swallow-tail butterfly

A zebra swallow-tail butterfly visits a butterfly weed. (Kathy Reshetiloff / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

One way they do this is by producing seeds that contain the genetic information to grow a new plant. Seeds develop when pollen is transferred between flowers of the same plant species.

Pollination is the act of transferring pollen grains from the male part of a flower, the anther, to the female part, the stigma. About 80% of all plants are pollinated by pollinators, such as bats, birds and insects. The remaining 20% are pollinated by wind and water.

Plants and pollinators have co-evolved physical characteristics that make them more likely to interact successfully. The plants benefit from attracting a particular type of pollinator to its flower, ensuring that its pollen will be carried to another flower of the same species and result in successful reproduction.

Hummingbird moth

A hummingbird moth visits wild bergamot. (Chelsi Hornbaker /U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Different plants have evolved to flower at different times throughout the growing season. This decreases competition for pollinators and provides pollinators with a constant supply of food.

The pollinator benefits from its adaptation to a particular flower type by ensuring that it will be able to find important food resources — nectar and pollen. The flower’s shape, color, odor, nectar and structure varies by the type of pollinators that visit them.

Pollinators provide services to more than 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops. That means that one out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators. In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators are needed for a majority of the native plants that provide food and habitat for other wildlife and are the foundation for healthy ecosystems.

Many pollinators are declining due to the loss of feeding and nesting habitat. Pollution, misuse of chemicals, disease and changes in climate are contributing to shrinking pollinator populations.

What can you do? Create pollinator-friendly habitat with native flowering plants that supply pollinators with nectar, pollen and homes. To find out what native plants are best for your area, visit Pollinator Planting Guides and type in your zip code. Or, download The Bee Smart™ Pollinator Gardener app on your smart phone.

Here are a few common characteristics of flowers and the pollinators they attract. (This is not an all-inclusive list.)


  • Color: Orange, red, white
  • Scent: None
  • Shape: Large funnel-like or cups


  • Color: Bright white, yellow, blue
  • Scent: Fresh, mild, pleasant
  • Shape: Shallow, with landing platform, tubular


  • Color: Bright, including red, purple
  • Scent: Faint but fresh
  • Shape: Narrow tube with spur, wide landing pad


  • Color: Pale, white, and dull red, purple, pink
  • Scent: Strong sweet; emitted at night
  • Shape: Regular, tubular without a lip


  • Color: Dull white, green
  • Scent: None to strongly fruity or fetid
  • Shape: Large, bowl-like


  • Color: Pale, dull to dark brown or purple flecked with translucent patches
  • Scent: Putrid
  • Shape: Shallow, funnel-like or complex & trap-like

Kathryn Reshetiloff, a Bay Journal columnist, is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis.

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