Plants for pollinators: Plant sale this Friday and Saturday

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 29, 2019

By Patricia R. Drackett
Director, The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University
Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture

Many plants attractive to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators will be available at the Crosby Arboretum’s Pollinator Plant Sale on May 31 and June 1. Arboretum volunteers, which include many of the Pearl River County Master Gardeners, have been hard at work to grow many of the plants you will see at the sale this Friday and Saturday.

One of the featured plants will be scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea, which is in the mint family and very easy to care for. An excellent choice for those new to gardening, this plant is highly attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Once established, you won’t have to buy it again, because you’ll find this Salvia popping up here and there, as it produces an abundant amount of seed. This makes it a great “passalong” plant. And, the more you pinch it, the denser its growth!

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Native plant species attractive to pollinators that will be available at the upcoming sale include several species of milkweed (Asclepias), Coreopsis, American crinum lily, Indian Blanket flower, Joe-Pye Weed, Texas star hibiscus, Iris giganticaerulea, blazing star (Liatris), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia), Stokes’ Aster, Black-eyed Susan, Wild Bergamont (Monarda), Babrara’s Buttons (Marshallia)  hollies, asters, coneflowers, Gaura, Liatris, Coreopsis, and black-eyed Susan. A selection of shrubs and trees will be available, including Groundsel Tree (Baccharis halimifolia), the only woody member of the Aster family which grows to be a large shrub and is highly useful to fall-migrating monarch butterflies for both its abundant nectar and for roosting habitat (protection from wind and other elements).

Although gardeners often plant milkweed solely for the purpose of attracting monarch butterflies, this perennial also has a high value to pollinating insects due to being a high nectar producer. When we planted butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) into our pollinator garden, we were amazed by the high number of bumblebees that visited to work the flower clusters.

Swamp milkweed plants (Asclepias incarnata) will also be available. We have found this species to be the best choice to grow in place of the invasive tropical milkweed, Asclepias currasavica, Although the name implies that this plant prefers wet areas, it will do just fine in drier areas in your home garden. Currently, we also have swamp milkweed seed available in the Arboretum gift shop.

Swamp milkweed has the widest range of moisture preferences of the species of milkweed native to the Deep South. Many milkweeds prefer either wet or dry soil. We have been growing a limited amount of the white-flowering aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis), which is suited to shady, wet sites. Also at the sale, you will find the orange-flowering milkweed known as “butterfly weed” (Asclepias tuberosa). Butterfly weed is a wide-ranging, colonizing species that is often spotted along the roadsides on your travels through Mississippi. This species is arguably one the most commonly known species available in the garden seed and nursery trade, and prefers dry, gravely soils. In the 1970’s I knew this plant as “pleurisy root”, referring to its traditional medicinal use by Native American tribes to treat infections and other issues affecting the lungs.
For information on plants that will attract butterflies, visit the MSU Extension website at and select “Publications” in the menu bar. Enter “butterflies” in the search field to download Publication Number IS1661, “Butterfly Plants & Mississippi Butterflies”. “Gardening for Beneficial Bees in Mississippi” (Pub. No. 2976), provides a wealth of information on designing gardens to attract these pollinating insects, such as times of the year when bee foraging is heaviest, why flower shape matters, tips on planting in masses and providing water and housing sources. Lists of plants that attract bees are included.

Mark your calendar for our free community event on Saturday, June 8 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., an open mic event called “Music Under the Pines”, which will feature live music by local singers and musicians appearing in 15-minute time slots. Come see who has dusted off their old guitar in from the closet! Bring your friends and family out to join us after dinner, and delicious homemade baked goods, coffee and tea, and some unique local talent. It’s also an excellent opportunity for you to experience the lovely Pinecote Pavilion illuminated at night. Please call the Crosby Arboretum office at 601-799-2311 to reserve your seat in the audience, or to confirm that you are still coming if you happened to sign up for the previous date for this event of May 11, which was rained out.

The Crosby Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are welcome.