List of Plants & Flowers That Attract Bats [Updated]
Cultivating a diverse garden including native plant species can be a wonderful way to provide food and habitat for birds, insects, frogs, and other animals. Though many gardens cater to diurnal wildlife, strategically planned gardens can also be designed to specifically attract ecologically important nocturnal animals like bats.
Some species of bats, such as those that consume nectar, are directly attracted to plants. These nectar-feeding bats are small and dainty — like the mammal version of a hummingbird — and are occasionally observed using hummingbird feeders. Three species of nectar-feeding bats occur in the United States, though they are usually found only in the southwestern regions during the spring and summer, as they follow the blooming cycles of desert plants.
What Are the Benefits of Attracting Bats?
Bats are important pollinators of many plants, including the agave that tequila is made from. Of about 50 bat species in the United States, however, the majority eat insects and other arthropods like spiders.
A garden with nocturnal flowering plants can benefit these insect-eating bats by attracting the bugs that they like to eat. Providing important food items for insectivorous bats can then entice them to eat other more bothersome garden pests.
Other features that may lure bats to a garden include properly-designed bat houses or water features like ponds that allow bats to drink and forage for aquatic insects. Since bats face many different population threats including habitat loss, wind turbine fatalities, and disease, providing quality habitat for them is an easy way to help promote the conservation of these important animals.
Studies have shown that the preservation of natural habitat is beneficial for bats and can help support bats that eat agricultural pests by providing a more consistent supply of year-round food options. In addition to planting a bat-friendly garden, practices that reduce pesticide use and provide resources for other wildlife can have substantial benefits for local biodiversity in general.
As a benefit to the gardener, biodiverse gardens often require less fertilizer, have higher yields, and are more resistant to disease, while providing frequent opportunities for wildlife observation. The following list describes plant options for bat-friendly gardens and uses the USDA hardiness zones to refer to the geographic locations where each type of plant is most likely to thrive.
Plants That Attract Nectar-Feeding Bats (Southern Parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, & Texas)
1) Century plant (Agave americana)
Sometimes called American aloe despite no relation to true aloes, the century plant is a type of agave commonly used as an ornamental. Native to Mexico and Texas, this evergreen plant thrives in USDA hardiness zones 8 and higher. It can also be grown indoors, requiring full sunlight. These plants typically do not live for a century, but can last for 10 – 30 years.
The century plant has gray-green leaves with a prickly margin, occasionally striped with yellow in some varieties. After reaching maturity, the century plant develops a stalk with large yellow flowers, which can grow as tall as 15 feet. In addition to attracting hummingbirds and nectar-feeding bats such as the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae), century plants are also resistant to deer foraging.
2) Palmer’s century plant (Agave palmeri)
Palmer’s century plant, also referred to as Palmer’s agave, is another common ornamental agave with green or blue-green leaves. Its flower grows on a stalk that is 10 – 15 feet tall, yielding yellow or pink nectar-filled blossoms. In addition to providing food for lesser long-nosed bats and Mexican long-tongued bats (Choeronycteris mexicana), Palmer’s century plant attracts other animals such as sphinx moths, orioles, and hummingbirds. It is drought-tolerant and can be grown indoors, but does not handle cold well so is best suited for warmer climates.
3) Green maguey (Agave salmiana)
A massive, dark green agave, the green maguey — sometimes called giant agave or agave of Salm — typically flowers after 15 – 25 years or longer. This plant produces an inflorescence with yellow-green flowers and a stem that can exceed 13 feet in height. This agave is one of four agave types that are used as food plants by the Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis). Green maguey is also referred to as pulque plant, as the alcoholic beverage made from agave sap is often made from this specific variety.
4) Powder puff plants (Calliandra spp.)
Powder puff plants or powder puff trees are a group of about 140 species within the same genus, with the species Calliandra haematocephala among the most commonly seen in gardens, though Calliandra houstoniana is often reported as an important food plant for nectar-feeding bats.
Native to South America, it grows well in dry or humid tropical and subtropical environments. Prized for its red flowers, which are actually balls of conspicuous stamens, it grows as a shrub or small tree. Other varieties may have white, pink, or purple flowers. Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to its nectar, as are Mexican long-nosed bats, especially in areas without available agaves.
5) Organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi)
Named for its resemblance to a pipe organ, this cactus is also known as “sweet pitaya” for the fruit it produces. Several narrow stems rise from a single trunk, and the plant reaches full maturity after approximately 150 years.
Older plants produce fragrant white funnel-shaped flowers every year, which open at night. These flowers provide nectar for lesser long-nosed bats, which in turn function as this plant’s key pollinator and seed disperser, helping to promote its genetic diversity. Though native to the Sonoran Desert, this attractive but slow-growing cactus can also be cultivated in pots or in USDA hardiness zones 9 – 11.
Plants That Attract Insects Eaten by Bats
1) Evening primrose (Oenothera spp.)
Native to North America, the purple, yellow, or white flowers of various evening primrose species are famed for their beauty and fragrance. Though there are dozens of varieties to choose from, many attract important pollinators like moths and bees. In particular, evening primrose flowers are a favorite of chubby hawkmoths that are eaten by some insectivorous bats — although certain species of hawkmoths use ultrasonic defenses to evade capture.
Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) thrives in full or partial sun in USDA hardiness zones 4 – 9, while other varieties can be planted in zones 3 – 11, with several varieties displaying drought tolerance.
2) Night scented phlox (Zaluzianskya ovata)
Native to Lesotho and South Africa, night scented phlox — also called “midnight candy” for its intoxicating sweet scent — is popular in moon gardens. Its scent is described as vanilla, honey, or almond, with small white flowers that can be maroon or pink on the underside. This annual plant attracts butterflies and moths in particular. Though sensitive, night scented phlox does well in full sun with well-drained soil in USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10.
3) Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
With over 100 species of flowering plants, goldenrods are native to the prairies and meadows of North America and attract a variety of insects including bees, wasps, flies, moths, butterflies, and beetles. Their showy yellow flowers provide late summer color which, contrary to myths, does not typically cause hay fever because goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be blown far by the wind.
Goldenrod is considered easy to grow, thriving nearly anywhere with sufficient sunlight in USDA hardiness zones 4 – 8. Planting goldenrod near vegetable gardens can also be beneficial by drawing damaging insects away.
4) Fleabane (Erigeron spp.)
A member of the daisy family, the fleabane genus includes nearly 400 species, with a cosmopolitan distribution although many are native to North America. Though considered a weed by some, many types of fleabane provide food for flies, bees, moths, and butterflies, with common and daisy fleabane functioning as the host plants for the lynx flower moth (Schinia lynx).
With white, purple, pink, or yellow flowers resembling daisies, fleabane is a favorite among some gardeners seeking to incorporate more native plants. Fleabane, many of which are perennials, can be easily grown in USDA hardiness zones 2 – 8, preferring full sun and moist but well-drained soil.
5) Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
Native to the tropical Americas, moonflowers can be grown in warmer areas of the US such as hardiness zones 10 – 11. These perennial twirling vines are named for their evening blooming habits as well as their striking, round white or light pink flowers. Their flowers are fragrant, attracting large nocturnal pollinators like hummingbird moths.
Coupling moonflowers with closely-related purple and pink common morning glories can provide a beautiful display of round-the-clock flowers. Other plants with white night-blooming flowers, such as Datura innoxia, are also sometimes referred to as moonflowers.
6) Wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
A close relative of Hydrangea macrophylla (the most common ornamental hydrangea), the wild or smooth hydrangea is native to the eastern United States, making it an excellent option for attracting wildlife. Its small flowers are usually white, though some varieties range from light to bright pink. Unlike other hydrangeas, flower color is not affected by the pH level of the soil.
Wild hydrangea grows best in partial shade with adequate water in USDA hardiness zones 3 – 8. The flowers produce a faint odor that attracts small flies — a preferred food of many smaller-bodied bat species.
7) Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.)
Among the most toxic of all ornamental plants, ingestion of the Brugmansia plant can cause delirium, hallucinations, and respiratory failure. Nonetheless, these plants remain a popular ornamental due to their large, showy, colorful flowers — though they are considered extinct in the wild and their propagation is dependent on humans.
Growing as a large shrub or tree, the flowers yield a pleasant scent most noticeable in the evening, which attracts many types of pollinating moths. These plants grow well in USDA hardiness zones 8 – 11. As they cannot tolerate freezing temperatures, plants in zone 8 must be potted and brought inside, or sheltered with deep mulching.
8) Salvias (Salvia spp.)
The largest genus in the mint family (Lamiaceae), nearly 1000 species belong to Salvia including common sage (Salvia officinalis), rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), and chia (Salvia hispanica). Their fragrant foliage and flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and moths, while supposedly repelling more troublesome insects like gnats, mosquitoes, and other flies.
Different salvias thrive in USDA hardiness zones ranging from 4 – 10 depending on the species or variety. For example, in zones 5 – 8, salvias like sage grow well, while rosemary is hardy in zones 8 and 9. Many salvias are drought-resistant, and some may also be less preferred by garden nibblers like rabbits and deer.
9) White jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)
Famous for its fragrance that marks the sweet days of summer, white jasmine (also called pink jasmine) is an evergreen climber with dainty pink to white star-shaped flowers. Native to southwestern China, it is frequently kept as a houseplant in the US and Europe. Though it cannot tolerate freezing temperatures, it grows well under sunny or light shade conditions in USDA hardiness zones 8 – 11. Mainly pollinated by smaller butterflies and moths, it can attract bees, wasps, and some flies that are also the prey of many bat species.
10) Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Common in temperate regions, yarrow is often found in meadows and along roadsides, where it is sometimes considered a weed. It thrives in many different climate zones throughout the US, with cultivated varieties including white, yellow, or pink flowers. Hardy and aromatic, yarrow attracts many beneficial insects including butterflies, moths, beetles, bees, and hoverflies. Yarrow is also commonly used as a medicinal plant to treat a variety of ailments such as stomach aches, eczema, and wound healing.