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Garden Guests: Planting to Attract Pollinators

Lonely in lock down? These native SoCal plants will bring plenty of pollinating visitors.

allen chickering wide for header

Spring isn’t in the air quite yet, but this is Los Angeles, and we don’t have to wait on the weather to see amazing animals enjoying the golden sunshine (and rare occasions of rain). We checked in with Richard Hayden, who oversees the Nature Gardens and NHM Capital Projects as the Assistant Deputy Director, to find out what plants are keeping things buzzing.

Allen chickering

The Allen Chickering is a hybridization of S. clevelandii and S. leucophylla. This sage’s amethyst blooms start popping up in the late spring and continue into the fall, and these native California shrubs are deliciously fragrant all year round. Their violet-colored flowers are definitely showstoppers, and as sages their leaves are distinctly aromatic (especially when crushed). "Allen Chickering attracts a myriad of pollinators from hummingbirds and goldfinches to bees and butterflies. There aren't a lot of plants with that array of visiting pollinators,” Hayden says. The goldfinches even help out, letting the Nature Garden team know when it’s time to get to work. “When there’s no more seeds, that’s when we prune it back.” 

Allen chickering wideshot

Allen Chickering is a sage, so it looks and smells lovely while it attracts critters.

Allen Chickering Close Up

The delicate, lavender blossom of the Allen Chickering is even more alluring close up.

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Allen Chickering is a sage, so it looks and smells lovely while it attracts critters.

The delicate, lavender blossom of the Allen Chickering is even more alluring close up.

Goldfinch
Allen Chickering attracts avian Angelenos like this lesser goldfinch (Spinus psaltria).

CEANOTHUS

Whether you call them soap bush, buckbrush, California lilac or plain old ceanothus, these small flowering trees, shrubs and ground cover are great for bringing pollinators into the garden. Their popularity with bees, butterflies and birds makes them perfect for our Pollinator Garden where we’re cultivating several species. Ceanothus' conical flurry of blossoms come in a variety of colors. The Nature Garden hosts several species: Ceanothus maritimus, and Ceanothos megacarpus to name a couple, but Hayden notes that the spectacular 'Concha' ceanothus will be blooming soon. Many species of ceanothus are native to Southern California, so there are plenty of options to get your home buzzing. 

ceanothus concha

According to Hayden, the Nature Garden's 'Concha' ceanothus should blooming shortly.

Ceanothus maritimus

The Nature Garden hosts several types of ceonothus like this gorgeous c. maritimus.

Ceanothus megacarpus

Whatever their color, ceanothus like this c. megacarpus are sure enliven your garden.

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According to Hayden, the Nature Garden's 'Concha' ceanothus should blooming shortly.

The Nature Garden hosts several types of ceonothus like this gorgeous c. maritimus.

Whatever their color, ceanothus like this c. megacarpus are sure enliven your garden.

Coyote Brush

Coyote Brush – or Baccharis pilularis– stays green year round, and its dense structure provides an excellent habitat for lots of different critters. These verdant shrubs host small mammals who get protection from the dense foliage and dine in on any plants that might pop up underneath. While not the preferred meal for many grazing mammals, it does an amazing job attracting pollinators with an abundance of nectar and pollen. Besides the European honeybee, 54 species of insects have been documented buzzing around coyote brush, so it’s easy to see why it’s one of NHM’s Entomology Curator Dr. Brian Brown’s favorites. 

Coyote brush wide

Coyote brush has been documented attracting 54 different insect species.

Coyote brush close up

The dense structure of Coyotebrush offers a cozy ceiling for small mammals.

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Coyote brush has been documented attracting 54 different insect species.

The dense structure of Coyotebrush offers a cozy ceiling for small mammals.

Chalk Liveforever

While they might look a little shriveled in the Los Angeles summer, and who doesn’t, the Chalk Liveforever (Dudleya pulverulenta) is one hardy succulent. You could almost say it… lives for a very long time. The fine chalky white powder covering its fleshy leaves is responsible for the second half of the name. These beautiful rosettes are stunning all on their own, but later in the spring they send out a long, arching vibrant pink flower that’s practically a hummingbird magnet. They’re also perfect for container growing or planting in rocks, like in the Nature Garden’s Living Wall. 

 

chalk liveforever single

Chalk liveforevers are perfect for small spaces.

chalk liveforever three

These succulents flower into veritable hummingbird magnets.

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Chalk liveforevers are perfect for small spaces.

These succulents flower into veritable hummingbird magnets.

Allens hummingbird
Chalk liveforever attract bejeweled birds like this Allen's hummingbird.

TOYON

The Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is most easily recognizable by the bright red berry-like fruit that inspires its other common names: the California Holly and the Christmas berry. These perennial, drought-adapted shrubs grow quickly at home, reaching as high as eight feet in a couple of years, but some amazing specimens in the Los Padres National Forest have been documented at 30 feet. Not bad for a shrub! Their fruit are favorites of avian Angelenos like the cedar waxwing, and Toyon also attracts four species of butterflies and moths. Their crimson fruit adds a festive feel to any garden, including ours.  

Toyon Wide Shot

Fast growing and hardy, toyon is a reliable plant for attracting pollinators.

Toyon berries close up

Birds love toyon's bright red berries.

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Fast growing and hardy, toyon is a reliable plant for attracting pollinators.

Birds love toyon's bright red berries.

Whether you can make it to your closest green space or your local nursery, keep an eye out for these native plants. Sit and watch a while, and you’re likely to see wildlife of many stripes (and spots) stop by for a drink or a meal. Be sure to check in for more gardening guidance from Richard Hayden, and you might just end up turning your yard, balcony or window sill into a pollinator hot spot.