Succulents Belong in Your Pollinator Garden!

Succulents for Pollinators

Attracting pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds provides many benefits for you, your garden and the natural world. Pollinator activity will boost the productivity of the vegetables, fruits and herbs that you and your neighbors grow. Providing food and shelter for them helps to support pollinator health and productivity. And there is simply nothing like the magic of winged visitors to your garden to cast a lasting enchantment. Pollinator populations are in trouble. Many gardeners are participating in making pollinator gardens for some or all of these reasons. And succulents should be a part of any pollinator garden, especially one where water conservation is important!

{Please note, some links in this post may be affiliate links to sites that pay me a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. This commission is at absolutely no cost to you. I only recommend products and companies that I have worked with and truly love! ~Kat}

The Birds and the Bees and Succulents

honey bee pollinating jovibarba succulent blooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you take a cutting from a succulent to grow into a new plant, you are taking advantage of the plant’s ability to reproduce vegetatively. This is a series of adaptations succulents have evolved to respond to damage caused by wind, passing animals, falling tree limbs, etc. Each incident of damage results in an opportunity for the plant to propagate itself, to ensure its genes are passed on.

Vegetative reproduction is asexual. There is no genetic input from any other plant. The new life forms that result are just like the mother plant. But there is no genetic diversity, no opportunity to develop any new and possibly more successful traits, no development for the species. For this, there must be sexual reproduction, which relies on pollination and pollinators.

Succulent Flower Form and Pollinators

collage of very different succulent blooms attractive to pollinators

 

 

 

 

 

Plants that rely on animal pollination, (as opposed to wind-, water- or self-pollinated plants) have evolved flowers formed, colored and scented to attract specific pollinators. The images above are a small sampling of the wildly varied forms of succulent flowers. Each is perfectly constructed to appeal to and to accommodate its native pollinators. Different succulents are pollinated by bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, flies, wasps, bats, beetles and more. These pollinators ensure the health and vigor of wild populations of succulents.


Be sure to fill your pollinator garden with a variety of flower colors and forms. Each color and form beckons to a different type of pollinator.

Staggered Bloom Times for Pollinators

sedum autumn joy blooms with butterfly pollinating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most succulents bloom in spring or summer, with a few, select sedum varieties now recategorized as hylotelephium blooming well into the fall. Although monarch butterflies are well known for their extraordinary migration over thousands of miles, most pollinators remain close to their home range. They need food every day of the year, just as we do. Be sure to include plants that bloom at different times of the season in your pollinator garden.

Succulents That Attract Hummingbirds
hummingbird feeding from echeveria blooms
Photo by Nancy DeMuro

With bright, tubular flowers held aloft on very tall stems, there are a number of succulents that entice hummingbirds to feed from their flowers, thereby pollinating the plants. Here, a hummingbird is feeding from the arching blooms of an echeveria. Agave, aloe, dudleyas, gasteria, opuntia, pachyphytum, sinningia and schlumbergera flowers are also highly attractive to hummingbirds.

Thank you, Nancy DeMuro, for the use of this image!

Drought Tolerant Plants That Attract Bees

honey bee pollinating sedum succulent blooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are over 4,000 bees native to the United States alone, with many thousands more throughout the world. Bee pollination is, directly and indirectly, responsible for much of the food we humans eat. It is estimated by the Entomological Society of America that “Honey bee pollinating activities are worth 143 times more than the value of honey and beeswax they produce ($18.9 billion vs. $140 million).” Incorporating food supplies for bees in your pollinator garden helps to protect the local populations. Many succulents produce flowers formed by clusters of blooms that are highly attractive to bees including aeonium, aichryson, crassula, delosperma, dudleya, echinocactus, pectinaria, sedum, sempervivumsenecio and some stapella.

Succulents That Attract Butterflies
swallowtail butterfly pollinating opuntia cactus blooms
Photo by Derrill Pope

The long-lasting blooms of sedum and sempervivum are genuine butterfly magnets. They also flock to the flowers of aeonium, aichryson, calandrinia, crassula, jovibarba, opuntiasempervivum and senecio.


This photo supplied by Derrill Pope, owner of RainbowFarms, an Etsy shop where she offers dozens of opuntia varieties for sale. She reports they are wildly popular with the local butterflies.

Succulents That Attract Moths

hawkmoth pollinating sansevieria blooms

As nocturnal pollinators, moths are typically attracted by very pale colored blooms that seem to almost glow in the moonlight. These blooms also often emit a sweet scent to attract their preferred pollinator. Above is the photo of a hawk moth busily pollinating sansevieria blooms. Moths are also attracted to agave, cereus, epiphyllum, saguaro and yucca.

Bat Pollination of Succulents

bat pollinating blooms of tequila agave

Are you surprised to learn that bats pollinate some succulents? If so, you will be astonished to learn they are the primary pollinators for the tequila agave. Without bats, there would be no margaritas! Their furry faces collect lots of pollen as they push among blooms held high in the sky. In addition to agave, bats pollinate cereus, hylocereus, saguaro and yucca.

This photo of a bat pollinating the agave is provided courtesy of Marlon Machado via Flickr and Creative Commons Public License (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0).


I have compiled a table of succulent varieties listed along with the pollinators they attract:

Succulents that Attract Pollinators

BeesButterfliesHummingbirdsMothsBats
AeoniumAeoniumAgaveAgaveAgave
AichrysonAichrysonAloeCereusCereus
CrassulaCelandriniaDudleyasEpiphyllumHylocereus
DelospermaCrassulaEcheveriaSaguaroSaguaro
DudleysJovibarbaGasteriaSansevieriaYucca
EchinocactusSedum
OpuntiaYucca
PectinariaSenecioPachyphytum
SedumSinningia
SempervivumSchlumbergera
Senecio

Succulent Pollinators

honey bee pollinating senecio string of pearls blossom
Photo by Bobbie Jo Serio

Like other plants, succulents attract a wide array of pollinators. Some, like butterflies and hummingbirds, are beloved by gardeners and add their own beauty to the garden. Other pollinators like bats, flies, wasps, midges and beetles are far less appreciated, though they do important work too. My research for this post led me to the information that midges are responsible for pollinating cacao. Without midges – we would have no chocolate! Long live the chocolate midge! 

Photo of senecio string of pearls bloom pollinated by a honey bee provided by Bobbie Jo Serio.

Resources to Learn More About Pollinators

hummingbird pollinating echeveria blooms in container garden setting
Photo by Roma Macasaet

Creating a successful haven for pollinators means much more than simply including the right flowering plants. A well-designed pollinator garden also provides water and shelter for winged visitors as well as food for their young. In a flourishing butterfly garden, make allowances for the foraging of their caterpillars. Remember to limit your use of pesticides to the bare minimum. Restrict any spraying you feel you positively must do, to night time, when most pollinators will not be active in the garden.

For more information about creating a pollinator garden, I recommend the following resources:

Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

Essentials to Attracting Pollinators to the Garden

Save the Bees

Saving Our Monarchs. One Milkweed at a Time

Links to learn more about growing these succulents that attract pollinators: Aeonium, aloe, crassula, echeveria, kalanchoe, sansevieria, sedum, sempervivum, senecio,

Thank you Roma Macasaet for the use of this photo of a hummingbird feeding from echeveria flowers!

Feed the Birds, Butterflies and Bees

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, much like pollinators do. You do not need an expansive garden to make pollinators welcome. Even a single container of mixed plants on a balcony or patio can provide much-needed refreshment. Pollinators add life, motion, color, health, vitality, fertility and magic to the garden. Make them welcome through your plant choices. And don’t forget to add succulents!

Happy Gardening!

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succulents attract a wide variety of pollinators to their blooms, including hummingbirds, butterflies and honey bees

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10 thoughts on “Succulents Belong in Your Pollinator Garden!”

  1. Very nice article,
    I would like to place hummingbird attracting succulents on my south facing balcony in Port Hueneme, CA. What would you advise?

    1. Hi Tim,
      Thanks so much for the comment! 🙂
      Your climate and southern exposure are well suited to most varieties that appeal to hummingbirds. I would recommend echeveria and aloe in particular. They offer a wide range of sizes, colors and textures, with long-lasting blooms that are genuine hummingbird magnets! Both are easy to grow, and flower early in their lifespan, and then every year following.
      Enjoy!
      ~Kat

  2. Which succulents withstand freezing temperatures for winter? I live in Othello, Washington where it is desert. Temperatures can drop to -10-15 sometimes.

    1. Hi Jan,
      There are a few that will thrive year-round in climates like yours. Here are my recommendations:
      Sempervivum
      Sempervivum Heuffelii
      Cold hardy Sedum – Take care with your sedum selections. Some sedum varieties are quite tender. This is a link to a good number of cold-hardy varieties.
      Some opuntia varieties are very cold hardy — check the variety.
      Also check out some of the following:
      Agave parryi, Agave havardiana, Agave toumeyana v. bella, Dasylirion texanum, Delosperma, Jovibarba, Lewisia, Orostachys, Rosularia and Yucca.
      Have fun!
      ~Kat

    1. You are most welcome, Jan!
      You might want to look into the local chapter of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America
      Members will know all the best local nurseries and out of the way spots.
      Best of all, at their meetings, they will often have plant swaps, which is such a great way to get rare and unusual varieties.
      Thanks so much for reading! 🙂
      ~Kat

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