Permaculture Basics: Five Edible Ornamentals That Also Attract Pollinators

When planning your permaculture landscape, you'll need to include plants that attract pollinators. Instead of using ornamental flowers that provide nothing else, try planting some of these edible ornamentals that also are pollinator attractors.


While most people think of the giant sunflowers with black-and-white striped seeds as the only edible variety, this is far from the truth. In fact, there are dozens of sunflower cultivars that range in color from creamy white to rust red with a few bi-colored flowers. While most are grow into the towering flowers we know well, dwarf varieties, such as "Teddy Bear," "Big Smile" and "Elf," grow only to two feet tall. Not all have edible seeds, but all of them attract pollinators.

Scarlet Runner Beans

Bees and hummingbirds both flock to the scarlet red flowers of this showy edible bean vine. Plant this perennial vine instead of a purely ornamental flowering vine for the added benefit of edible beans, leaves and roots. The flowers are edible too and make a colorful addition to salads. If you don't like red flowers, there is also a variety with normal white blooms.


Unknown to many gardeners, the stately, tall hollyhock has edible flowers, roots and leaves. While the blossoms and leaves are mostly used in teas, the single blossoms are also sometimes used as dip bowls at garden parties. Some hollyhocks are perennials, but most are biennials, which produce a plant one year and flower the next before they die. Bees and butterflies both love dining on hollyhock flowers. 


While calendula is more widely known for its medicinal properties, the bright orange flowers are also edible. The tangy, peppery blossoms can be used to color rice or other foods or as a colorful garnish in salads. Medicinally, calendula is used in topical creams and ointments to treat various skin conditions and to relieve muscle pain. Since calendula tolerates freezing temperatures well, it makes a beautiful fall cover crop that helps the bees stash pollen for winter.


Chaya is a tropical shrub that is a perennial in warmer climates, but a fast-growing annual in colder areas. Its leaves are popular in permaculture gardens as a summer spinach substitute, and its young shoots can be cooked and eaten like asparagus. Chaya can become massive in tropical areas, reaching heights of up to 20 feet with an equal circumference, but it is usually kept pruned to a manageable height for harvesting. Its masses of sweet, white flowers are addictive to bees and butterflies. WARNING: Chaya leaves must be cooked before eating due to their hydrocyanic acid content. 

A permaculture landscape is a wonderful way to work with nature to provide you with food and beauty. Carefully planning to use edible ornamentals that also attract pollinators adds value to your landscape. Talk to your local permaculture landscape specialist for more ideas of pollinator attracting edibles you can include in your design. Contact a company like Weiler's Lawn & Landscape to get started.