Native plants and native pollinators have co-evolved – each has influenced the other in their process of environmental adaptation. For example, different types of bees have different periods of activity, which often relates to bloom periods for specific plant species. When they emerge, typically in spring and summer, many species of bees have a small window of time and space available to find the right flowering plants to survive and reproduce. Adding some native plants to your garden is one of the most important components of creating a pollinator paradise.
Below is a description of several native flowering plants that are known to be especially attractive to pollinators. The joy of gardening with native plants is that, if you plant them in the right location, they are able handle our dry summers with little need for watering!
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A Short List of Native Flowering Plants
Camas (Camassia): The Camas is part of the asparagus family and is native to the Nanaimo lowland. This plant thrives in moist open environments. The best time to plant these beauties is in the fall or early winter as they bloom from April to June. Camas prefer moist conditions and full sun to partial shade. Attractive to bees and butterflies. Photo taken at Piper’s Lagoon, Nanaimo, courtesy of © laureljazzmin from iNaturalist.
Red-Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum): a vibrant early-blooming shrub, that will provide a profusion of flowers that grow in tendrils. This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. A member of the gooseberry family its berries are edible, though most people don’t find them very palatable. Photo taken at Bowen Park, Nanaimo, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum): Trees are important for pollinators as well! This native maple is great for providing shade on your property. Its flowering season is early spring, which makes it a great food source for the early emerging pollinators. Bigleaf maple is also a host plant for many native butterflies and moths. Photo taken at Sherwood Drive, Nanaimo, courtesy of © angusbc from iNaturalist.
Wild Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii): Deciduous shrub with long arching stems that are covered in white flowers. Blooms late spring. Full sun to part shade, drought tolerant. Attractive to bees and butterflies. Photo taken in downtown Nanaimo, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Salal (Gaultheria shallon): Salal is a typical understory evergreen shrub whose beautiful waxy leaves are prized by bouquet makers. It has white to light-pink pendant flowers that become deep purple berries and are a traditional food source for local First Nations. Attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Salal is a slow grower and may take years to get established, but it is well worth the wait and effort. Blooms May-June. Photo taken at Long Lake, Nanaimo courtesy of ©cheribs_pg from iNaturalist.
Seablush (Plectritis congesta): This meadow plant is part of the honeysuckle family. Its primary requirement is the sun, blooming in late spring and growing as a (tame) self-seeding annual. In a local study with the SFU Pollinator Ecology lab it was discovered that sea blush is attractive to perhaps the greatest diversity of native pollinators. Photo taken at Harewood Plains, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum): Nodding onion is very easy to grow. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil, but can manage in most soil types and can thrive in those hot, gravelly sites that are often a problem for many gardeners or in rock gardens. Grows from 6 – 18 inches tall, in clumps. Blooms early to mid summer. Attractive to sweat bees and bumble bees, as well as butterflies and hummingbirds. Photo taken in Nanaimo, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Osoberry (Oemieria cerasiformis): Osoberry is a fast growing multi-stemmed shrub to small tree. It can grow in most sunlight conditions, but will display a different growth habit, being denser in full sun, and more open in shady locations. It can grow in moist to dry conditions. It is one of our first native plants to flower in the spring, providing an important food source for early pollinators such as queen bumble bees. The berries are a favourite of birds, but are bitter tasting to people. Photo taken at Morden Colliery Regional Trail, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Yellow Monkey-flower (Mimulus guttatus): This perennial has cheerful yellow flowers that look almost too big for their stems. It can grow from 10 – 80 cm tall, but is generally low growing. In the wild it often grows in seeps and along wetted streambanks, so it needs moist soil in your garden. Tolerates sun to part shade and will bloom from May to September if you deadhead. Attractive to many bee species. Photo taken at Lotus Pinnatus park in Nanaimo, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea): This easy to grow perennial grows best in hot sunny spots, though it can grow in part shade as well. Prefers dryer soils. It has silvery gray foliage with clustered papery white flowers that grow on stems up to 3 feet tall. Blooms are long lasting and start early to mid summer. Attractive to butterflies and is a host plant to Painted Lady caterpillars. If you see a silken web around one of your plants, then you are hosting this beautiful native species! Photo taken at Nanaimo River, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Canada Goldenrod (Solidago lepida): Much loved by bees, this forb is recognized by its fuzzy yellow spikes. Blooms in late summer. Goldenrod prefer full sun. Photo taken at Cordova Bay, Vancouver Island, courtesy of © Angelique at iNa
Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum): growing one to two metres in height, this evergreen shrub has a profusion of pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers. The fruit is sweet-tart. Blooms April to June. Attractive to bees. Photo taken at Morningside Park, Nanaimo, courtesy of © laureljazzmin from iNaturalist.
Douglas Aster (Symphotrihum subspicatum): This plant has daisy-like flowers that have purple-blue petals and a yellow centre. Blooms from July through September. Attractive to bees and butterflies. Give this plant some space – it will spread if it is happy where you planted it! Photo taken at Nanaimo Estuary, courtesy of © sylviehawkes from iNaturalist.
Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium): This perennial can grow from moist to fairly dry sites and grows on erect stalks with spikes of pinks flowers. It prefers full sun, but can grow in partial shade, and generally grows up to 5 feet in height.
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus): Snowberries are a great hardy shrub that won’t mind some neglect. They have delicate pinkish-white flowers in late spring and with waxy white berries that are high in saponins and are not edible. This plant likes to spread, so be sure to give it some room to grow, or be ready to spend time keeping it under control. Photo taken at Piper’s Lagoon, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Woolly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum): The woolly sunflower blooms from May to August, full sun is preferable but they will bloom in partial shade. While they are not actual sunflowers these little yellow beauties are much loved by bees and butterflies. Photo taken at Lotus Pinnatus park, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor): This deciduous shrub grows in graceful arches with flowers blooming in fuzzy tendrils at the tips. Blooms from June to August. Oceanspray is a riparian plant, growing near stream banks and other similar sites in the wild) and as such prefers moist sites. Attractive to bees and butterflies. Photo taken at Chase River, courtesy of © sapphirestarfish from iNaturalist.
Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana): This is a hardy native rose. Definitely not deer proof. Blooms from May to July. Native roses typically have a simple structured flower with five petals, which allows easy access to pollinators. Attractive to bees and butterflies. Photo taken at Nanaimo River, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): These dainty white flowers are very hardy and can persist in moist to dry conditions. Bloom in late spring or early summer. Many species will continue to bloom intermittently into fall making them a great plant for a beginner gardener. Attractive to bees. Photo taken at Lotus Pinnatus park, courtesy of Lynda Stevens.
Finding the Right Spot For Your Plant: The Moisture and Sunlight Balance
Growing native flowering plants in your garden is a lot like growing cultivars – some plants are very picky about their moisture and sunlight conditions, and others are more adaptable and can survive or even thrive in a wide range of conditions. A good way to know what conditions these plants like is to observe where they are located in the wild. If they are shaded by trees, note this as being partial shade or shady. Below we have created a list of native flowering plants listed for specific sunlight conditions, with soil type added for each plant.
Native Plants for Sunny Locations (6+ hours)
- Fireweed (Epilobium angustfolium) – moist soil
- Woolly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) – dry soil
- Bi-coloured Lupine (Lupinus bicolor) – well drained soil
- Menzies’ Larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) – moist, well-drained soil
- Canada Goldenrod (Solidago lepida) – dry to moist soil
- Broad-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathulifoium) – dry soil
- Pacific crabapple (Malus fusca) – moist to wet soil
- Mock orange (Philadeplhus lewisii) – dry to moist soil
- Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) – dry to moist soil
- Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria) – normal soil
- Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) – moist to wet, well-drained soil
- Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) – dry to moist soil
Native plants for partial shade locations (4 – 6 hours sun, mostly morning sunshine)
- Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) – normal to moist soil
- Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – dry to moist soil
- White fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) – dry to moist soil
- Wild Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) – dry to normal soil
- Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) – moist to wet soil
- Douglas Aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatum) – normal to wet soil
- Orange Honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa) – well-
Native plants for shade locations (under 3 hours of direct sunlight, or dappled sunlight only)
- Pacific Sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis) – dry to moist soil
- Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum) – moist to wet soil
- Hookedspur Violet (Viola adunca) – dry to moist soil
- False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) – normal to moist soil
- Broad-leaved Shootingstar (Dodecatheon hendersonii) – dry to moist soil
- Wood Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) – normal to wet soil
- Pacific (or False) Lily-of-the-Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) – moist to wet soil
Where to buy plants and seeds
NALT Native plant nursery – This nursery is located near the Nanaimo Airport at 3145 Frost Road. As the name suggests they focus exclusively on native plants and trees, which are all grown at the nursery from source-identified seed. Both plants and seed are available.
Streamside Native Plants – Located north of Nanaimo in Bowser at 7455 Island Highway West. This nursery also specializes exclusively in native perennials, shrubs, grasses and trees.
Satinflower Nursery – Located south of Nanaimo in Victoria at 741 Haliburton Road. It specializes in native plant species, selling both potted plants, shrubs, grasses, and trees as well as seeds and seed blends.