10 Edible Plants That Attract Pollinators

A bee pollinating a yellow honeysuckle.

Tony Alter / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

While many plants are edible and even downright delicious, only some are also able to attract pollinators. Pollinators are bugs and animals that carry pollen from one plant to another, helping them to make fruit, seeds, and plant offspring. Pollinator species are essential for the natural pollination crucial to earth's ecosystems, and adding plants to your garden that attract pollinators, like bees, birds, and butterflies, can help your plants flourish without using fertilizers or other undesirable substances.

Here are 10 plants that will both attract pollinators and provide nutritious food for you and your loved ones.

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

1
of 10

Squash (Cucurbita)

A squash blossom in full bloom.

Jo Zimny Photos / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Squash are a delicious kitchen staple that you can grow right in your backyard, with the added benefit of attracting pollinators. Squash come in many annual varieties including butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata 'Butternut'). Before getting to your kitchen, squash are most commonly pollinated by bees, aptly called squash bees, who make the rounds once squash blossoms have bloomed.

Plant squash in a sunny and sheltered location at the correct time in the season for the variety of your choice — make sure the soil is rich and fertile, as this plant is hungry for nutrients.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Very fertile.
2
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Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

A basil plant in the sun.

Forest and Kim Starr / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Once blossomed, pollinators like flower flies get to work, sipping the nectar of this tasty garden staple. Hungry for sun, finicky basil plants only grow outdoors in the summertime, but can do well indoors year-round, too. This annual leafy green herb goes well with Mediterranean recipes and is a refreshing snack straight off the stem.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist, and well-draining.
3
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Green Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)

Green beans on the vine.

Alpha / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Green beans are a versatile annual vegetable that pollinators like bees love to sip nectar from. But green bean plants are actually self-pollinators, so even without their loyal visitors, they'll bring your garden — and eventually, kitchen — fresh produce.

Green bean varieties are either bush beans, reaching about two feet tall, or pole beans, growing up to 15 feet tall. If you choose the latter, you'll need a trellis to support the vines. After planting your seeds after the last spring frost, you'll have plenty of green beans around 50 to 65 days later.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Clay or loamy and well-draining.
4
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Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

A field of lavender.

Yawar Nazir / Getty Images

While lavender is a popular source for fragrance, its flowers and stems are also edible. After blooming, bumblebees and butterflies are frequent regulars to its flowers, enacting the crucial pollination process.

Thriving in full sun, lavender is able to thrive in most soil types, as long as the soil drains well. Once bloomed, lavender emits a famously fragrant scent, and as a bonus, its dried flowers can elevate teas, cakes, and other goodies.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining.
5
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Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

An oregano plant.

Sandra Cindric / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Pollinators of all kinds are attracted to oregano, even when it’s not flowering. This edible perennial herb is easily started from seeds, but you can plant its cuttings as well. With flavorful leaves fit for a variety of culinary applications, oregano is a staple in herb gardens throughout the world. They can grow up to about one to two feet tall and widen to around 18 inches across.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 12.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loamy and well-draining.
6
of 10

Apple Tree (Malus domestica)

An apple tree bearing fruit in the sun.

Francis Dean / Getty Images

If you have the room to plant two apple trees on your property, you can get apples (after at least two years) and attract pollinators. One apple tree needs a different variety of the tree planted nearby to bear fruit — this is called cross-pollination. Just make sure you're prepared for how big these trees get: Many apple trees can grow up to 30 feet tall with a spread of about the same measurement across, too.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, ample organic matter.
7
of 10

Radish (Raphanus sativus)

Red radishes in soil.

Josef F. Stuefer / Getty Images

Pollinator insects are attracted to the flowers and leaves of this crunchy edible root vegetable. Plant your seeds continuously through the growing season and you'll have a consistent influx of bees and butterflies. After being covered with just half an inch of soil, they'll quickly start to grow. Radishes can grow back or might need to be replaced annually — it depends on the variety.

Radishes come in numerous different species, with colors ranging from white and red to purple — there's even a variety that is sometimes black, too (R. raphanistrum subsp. sativus). For best results, plant your seeds in late spring or late summer.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, ample organic matter.
8
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Dandelion (Taraxacum)

Dandelions in various stages of bloom.

Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

While they are edible and can be quite tasty for humans when prepared right, dandelions might be more popular as food among bees. These flowers provide pollinators with both pollen and nectar.

You can plant dandelion seeds in early spring six weeks before the average date of the last frost, or even just allow them to flourish if they've sprung up on your property. They're perennial, so you might find your work already taken care of by these fast spreaders. You can add their leaves to salads or pesto and their flowers in fritters.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining and fertile.
9
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Sunflower (Helianthus)

A sunflower basking in the late afternoon sun.
DeFodi Images / Getty Images.

Sunflowers are great for attracting pollinators like birds, and their seeds are a versatile snack. Enjoy their bright and large yellow flowers and leafy green stems during the growing season, and then collect the seeds for eating.

If you plant sunflowers in a sunny spot in late spring, they could thrive and grow up to 14 feet tall. Be sure to plant these annuals in the ground or a large pot, as their roots can reach four feet below the soil's surface.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Loose and well-draining.
10
of 10

Honeysuckle (Lonicera)

Honeysuckle in full bloom.

Julie Falk / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Honeysuckles live up to their name, with sweet edible nectar you can eat right from the flowers. They attract a variety of pollinators, but before you eat their berries, be sure to check if those of the variety you've planted are poisonous or not. Perennial honeysuckle flowers bloom in various shades of white, yellow, and gold, and need lots of sun to thrive.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, ample organic matter.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center