Secret Pollinators

moths on pink zinnias
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Secret Pollinators

Butterflies and Bees Aren’t the Only Beneficial Pollinators In the Garden.

Gardeners everywhere plant specific varieties to lure pollinators into the garden, welcoming the sight of beautiful butterflies, buzzing bees, and cheerful ladybugs visiting their flowers. Let’s face it: even if they weren’t so good at moving nectar and pollen around, these winged visitors would be highly prized in our landscape.

But what about the less beautiful, less celebrated, and less visible regiment of pollinators in our garden?

Many other flying and crawling creatures visit plants regularly, removing and depositing pollen along the way. And while I won’t attempt to make a case for the appeal of some of these “secondary” pollinators (ants, mosquitoes, and beetles spring to mind), it’s worth looking at three often underrated and certainly welcome pollinators in the garden.

Hover Flies

The word “fly” seldom brings a smile to anyone’s face, but hover flies (Syrphids) are very important, particularly for fruit crops and for gardens in the far north, where they do the work of butterflies who never travel to alpine climates. Chances are, if you are growing berries or fruit, you have hover flies — and thank goodness. They are essential to the pollination of many fruits, from stone varieties (peaches, apricots, cherries, etc.) to berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.).

Hover flies also perform a pest repellent function in the garden. Their larvae gobble up several destructive insect species that might otherwise dine on your favorite plants.

One of the best sources of information we have found on hover flies in the garden is Sally Jean Cunningham’s superb book Great Garden Companions, which includes lists of beneficial insects, which pests they repel, and which plants they protect.


Any flowering plant with a strong nocturnal fragrance is a good candidate for pollination by hawk or sphinx moths. These beneficial pollinators visit gardenias, jasmine, stephanotis, and honeysuckle all summer long. They are also the primary pollinators of the yucca. White-flowered plants intensify in fragrance at night to attract pollinators such as hawk moths.


When it comes to fruit, hover flies don’t have all the fun. Wasps pollinate figs, as well as berrying plants such as cotoneaster. Some species also eat caterpillars, a valuable service indeed in the garden. Many sip the nectar of native plants, from Goldenrod to Eupatorium and Monarda, transporting pollen in the process. Wasps are responsible for all those succulent figs we love.

Yellow Jackets are among the most common (and recognizable) wasps in the garden. They do an excellent job gobbling up beetles and other destructive insects while zipping from native flower to native flower, carrying pollen.

To encourage pollinators of all kinds, native plants are always a safe choice. Fill the garden with color and fragrance, and it will reward you richly in beneficial visitors of all kinds.