Pollinator Syndromes: How to Predict Which Flowers Insects Will Like

Pollinators are those animals that give the invaluable service of helping plants reproduce and create seed or fruit that humans and others eat.

There are many pollinators including bats, bees, beetles, birds and butterflies.

The flower type, shape, color, odor, nectar, and structure vary and attract different pollinators according to the pollinators likes and needs. Such characteristics are pollination syndromes.

With this information you can predict which animals are most like to visit which plant.

Pollinator syndromes aren’t always correct but are used as a starting place to predict interactions. Apparently, only one-third of plants can be accurately classified according to pollinator syndromes.

Here is an example.

Great Spangled Fritillary on Purple Coneflower

Butterflies tend to visit flat blossoms with many nectar sources or small flowers. The flatness of the blossom provides a nice stable landing pad. Butterflies like asters, sedums, milkweeds and coneflowers for those reasons.

False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Bees like blossoms that give plenty of nectar and lure the bees in with a sweet fragrance. They tend to visit flowers white or blue. Hummingbirds tend to visit red, tubular shaped flowers.

Use the chart below to  help explain why certain plants attract bees, butterflies or other animals.


Color Dull white, green or purple Bright white, yellow, blue, or UV Dull white or green Scarlet, orange, red or white Bright, including red and purple Pale and dull to dark brown or purple; flecked with translucent patches Pale and dull red, purple, pink or white Dull green, brown, or colorless; petals absent or reduced
Nectar guides Absent Present Absent Absent Present Absent Absent Absent
Odor Strong musty; emitted at night Fresh, mild, pleasant None to strongly fruity or fetid None Faint but fresh Putrid Strong sweet; emitted at night None
Nectar Abundant; somewhat hidden Usually present Sometimes present; not hidden Ample; deeply hidden Ample; deeply hidden Usually absent Ample; deeply hidden None
Pollen Ample Limited; often sticky and scented Ample Modest Limited Modest in amount Limited Abundant; small, smooth, and not sticky
Flower Shape Regular; bowl shaped – closed during day Shallow landing platform; tubular, Large bowl-like, Magnolia Large funnel like; cups, strong perch support Narrow tube with spur; wide landing pad Shallow; funnel like or complex and trap-like Regular; tubular without a lip Regular: small and stigmas exerted

The table is courtesy the U.S. Forest Service’s Celebrating Wildflowers site.
http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/syndromes.shtml#traits  – Accessed on 26 October 2008.

Further information:

Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide to Conserving North American Bees and Butterflies and Their Habitat


Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded


Originally posted previously.


  1. Donna, this is great, but the row of specific pollinators got shifted one table-cell to the left, so “BATS” is under “TRAITS” and each pollinator is above the wrong column. This should be an easy fix (I hope).

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