Homegrown: Drought Friendly Pollinator Plants

Phlox is among the plants that can attract pollinators to your garden. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Phlox is among the plants that can attract pollinators to your garden. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Linn County Master Gardener, Jen Rothmeyer, offers timely advice on drought-resistant plants for Eastern Iowa:

When everything else in our yards is dying or struggling, planting drought-tolerant natives that can help support our pollinators is even more important. Many of the crops in our home gardens are insect-pollinated including tomatoes, onions, broccoli, apples, soybeans, pumpkins, squash, and watermelons.

Some of our pollinators are struggling, such as European honeybees with colony collapse disorder, perhaps because of changing landscapes and increased pesticide usage. One thing we can do to help is to plant pollinator-friendly flowering plants in our yards to attract and support these insects. Pollinators can include a wide variety of bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, or birds, and there are specific plants that attract the various pollinators. Additionally, even within a species of an insect, there might be certain plants that fulfill certain needs. The most widely known, perhaps, is that of the monarch butterfly. The milkweed plant supports the caterpillar, while the adult butterfly enjoys milkweed, goldenrod, cosmos, joe pye weed, thistle, gayfeather, lilac, and lantana (see Iowa State University’s brochure RG603 entitled “Iowa Butterfly and Caterpillar Food Preferences” for more information).

According to the Pollinator Partnership and North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC), eastern Iowa is located within two different bioregions defined by the United States Forest Service: the prairie parkland (temperate) province and the eastern broadleaf forest (continental) province. The prairie parkland temperate province includes primarily Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri while the eastern broadleaf forest is primarily composed of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Small snippets of other states are also included in both bioregions.


In the native plant lists for these two regions supplied by the Pollinator Partnership, several wonderful drought-tolerant perennials have a variety of bloom times for our pollinators. These include: Asclepias tuberosa (milkweed, butterfly weed), Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine), Coreopsis spp. (tickseed), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Iris spp. (iris), Liatris spp. (blazing star, greyfeather), Monarda spp. (beebalm), Phlox spp. (phlox), Rudbeckia spp. (black-eyed susans), and Solidago spp. (goldenrods).


Aquilegia Canadensis, Monarda spp., Coreopsis spp., and Phlox spp., start the season by blooming around April with a variety of colors such as red, yellow, white, pink, blue, and purple – depending on flower and species, and then Coreopsis spp., Liatris spp., and Solidago spp. end the season with their brilliant reds, blues, pink-purples, and yellows – depending on flower and species. In the middle months, the other listed flowers send forth their blooms to entice our local pollinators.

 More information on selecting plants for pollinators can be found at the Pollinator Partnership website,

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