If you have a mostly shady yard, you might know from experience that most pollinators — bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and hawkmoths — love the bright open spaces where sunshine abounds. Seek out plants that tolerate shady conditions yet produce flowers that lure in the passing insect or bird to sip nectar and set seeds for the plant and to delight the observant gardener.
Choose plants that attract not just honeybees, but also bumblebees and native bees. Bee balm (Monarda species), a member of the mint family that grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 9, is native to forest understories in North America. Cultivars with pink, purple, white and red flowers attract bumblebees to visit the lipped flowers for nectar. As a bonus, butterflies and hummingbirds also visit bee balm. Wedelia (Wedelia trilobata) makes a dark green groundcover studded with bright yellow daisy-like flowers in partial shade. Wedelia blooms nearly year-long and attracts bees and butterflies. Flowers of Lenten rose, also called hellebore (Helleborus species), bloom in winter and spring, attracting mainly bumblebees. Hellebores grow in USDA zones 4 through 8.
Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) is like a beacon to hummingbirds. Native to western North America, red columbine grows in partial shade along streambanks and in moist places and is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9. Red spurred outer petals frame a central cup of yellow petals. Another U.S. native, coral bells (Heuchera species and cultivars) has a year-round garden presence because of low mounds of colorful rounded leaves. Tall wiry stems bear red to pink bell-shaped flowers in summer that are attractive to hummingbirds. Hardiness varies depending on the cultivar, but generally ranges from zone 4 through 9.
Flowers that furnish a platflorm to land on and abundant nectar bring in butterflies. Beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) grows in sun, part shade and shade. White yellow-centered flowers attract butterflies and bees. This native California plant grows in USDA zones 5 through 9. Astilbe, also called false spirea (Astilbe species and cultivars), has many small flowers massed in plumy-looking flower heads. Butterflies, bees, flower flies, and moths all visit astilbe flowers. This plant prefers cooler summers and grows in USDA zones 4 through 8. Mints (Mentha species and cultivars) do well in shade and are hardy in zones 3 through 11, depending on the cultivar. Spikes of white flowers attract butterflies and bees.
Not all moths fly at night. Hummingbird sphinx moths and clear-wing sphinx moths are day-flying and have long tongues. They hover in front of flowers and probe flower tubes for nectar. Blue star (Amsonia species), wildflowers native to North America, are grown as garden plants and will tolerate partial shade. They have star-shaped flowers in various shades of blue at the end of long slender flower tubes and are pollinated by sphinx moths. Night-flying moths visit fragrant jasmine flowers (Jasminum species) and honeysuckle (Lonicera species), both perennial vines that tolerate shade. A native California wildflower, wishbone bush (Mirabilis laevis) has magenta flowers that grow in shade. Magenta flowers open in mid-afternoon through the evening, and are visited by white lined sphinx moths (Hyles lineata).