Pollinator Garden

Emphasizes natural plant partnerships

Pollinator Garden

The Smithsonian’s Pollinator Garden showcases natural plant/pollinator partnerships. All of the plants, grasses and trees in the garden have been selected to provide nourishment and shelter to pollinator insects. Visitors will enjoy a variety of plant species that attract butterflies and other pollinators.

While in the garden, visitors can view the pollinator process in action and learn about some of the unique characteristics of different pollinator insects as well as how plants have adapted to keep their pollinators coming back. By understanding the mechanics of pollination on a small scale, visitors will better appreciate the importance of pollination on a global scale. Butterflies are some of the more colorful insect pollinators.

Bring a camera and a quick eye when you visit. It will prove a most inspiring and rewarding experience!

About the Garden

pollinator gardenThe Pollinator Garden is a 400 x 40 foot area that highlights the interdependency between plants and their pollinators, including bees, beetles, and butterflies. It is located on the east side of the National Museum of Natural History at 9th Street between Constitution Avenue and the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

This garden first opened in 1995 as the Butterfly Habitat Garden, focusing solely on butterflies. The garden was built with funds from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, a group dedicated to supporting education, outreach, conservation, and research projects within the Smithsonian through its fund-raising activities.

In 2000, the Garden Club of America designated the Butterfly Habitat Garden one of its Founder's Fund Projects and awarded the Smithsonian funds to expand the garden, tripling its size. The gift also provided for the installation of walks, an irrigation system, and an amphitheater seating area. The GCA’s gift was in keeping with one of its goals: restoring, improving, and protecting the quality of the environment through educational programs and action in the fields of conservation and civic improvement.

In June 21, 2016, the Butterfly Habitat Garden was re-dedicated as the Pollinator Garden to showcase a wider diversity of pollinators. Horticulturists introduced native plants that are beneficial to pollinators other than butterflies, such as bees and beetles. The revised focus of the garden is the interdependency between plants and pollinators as a whole.

Gardening Tips at the Smithsonian Pollinator Garden


May 10 - December 2020


Habitat is a Smithsonian-wide exhibition exploring one big idea - Protecting habitats protects life.

Learn more about the exhibit

Pollinators in the Garden

Bee on flower


Flower nectar provides bees the sugar to fuel their flights. The proteins and amino acids in pollen are vital nutrients needed by young bee larvae back in the nest. Bees are not picky and frequently visit a large variety of flowers.


Beetles are referred to as "mess and soil" pollinators. Less elegant than other pollinators, beetles blunder their way through delicate blossoms searching for food, a mate, or perhaps the bathroom. Beetles frequently visit magnolias and flowers close to the ground.



Butterflies often visit round flowers with flared petals that lead to narrow throats that conceal nectar. Butterflies land on the wide petals, then delicately probe the flower's nectary (the gland that produces the nectar) with their long proboscis (tongue). Butterflies frequently visit salvias and sunflowers.


Some flies act just like bees, visiting sweet-smelling flowers. Others have more disgusting tastes. They are attracted to flowers with putrid odors, meat-like colors, or fur-like textures that lure them in by pretending to be the fresh dung or dead animal that flies desire. Flies frequently visit Dutchman's pipe, pawpaw, and some viburnums.


The long, thin bill and tongue of a hummingbird allows it to reach the nectar hidden deeply in tubular flowers. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species breeding on the East Coast each summer, after traveling up from Mexico and Central America. Hummingbirds frequently visit beebalm and honeysuckle.


Most moths go unnoticed even though they outnumber butterflies 10 to 1. Why? They are often active at night and dull in appearance. Night-blooming flowers have sweet scents and white or cream-colored blossoms that reflect the moonlight to attract moths after the sun sets. Moths frequently visit four o'clocks, moonflowers, and tobacco.


Not all pollination relies on animals. Wind pollinates grains, most nuts, many trees, and the wild grasses that provide forage for livestock. The odds are small that a pollen grain will find its way to a corn silk, but each kernel of corn is a tiny fruit resulting from successful wind pollination.