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Weird and Wonderful Plants for Pollinators: Wild Quinine

By Justin Wheeler on 10 May 2018

In celebration of National Wildflower Week, we're highlighting some of our favorite "weird and wonderful" plants for pollinators. You can find the best plants for pollinators anytime with our plant lists.

 

Wild Quinine

Also known as wild feverfew, wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans and the US Army. During World War I, wild quinine was used as a substitute for the bark of the Cinchona tree—as the active ingredient of quinine used to treat malaria.

The plant seems to have no trouble with heat—blooming June through September in hot, sunny locations. While the plant is not especially showy, the tiny white clusters of flowers attract nearly every walk of life. The plant is especially valuable for its support of native bees, attracting sweat bees (Halictus, Lassioglossum, and Agapostemon), mining bees (Andrena), small carpenter bees (Ceratina) and yellow-faced bees (Hylaeus) just to name a few.

Wild quinine is a fly favorite, attracting soldier flies (Stratiomys and Odontomyia), Syrphid flies (Syrphidae), Tachnid flies (Tachnidae), and others. Far from the common housefly, these flies are both pollinators and predators. In their larval form, many of these flies are valuable pest-eating insects.

 

wild quinine
The dainty white flowers of wild quinine are an excellent landing pad for butterflies, bees, wasps, and flies—attracting a diverse mix of pollinators. (Photo: Frank Mayfield / Flikr.com)

 

harrisina americana
In her book Pollinators of Native Plants, author Heather Holm devotes three pages to the unusual diversity of floral visitors to wild quinine, including the grapeleaf skeletonizer moth (Harrisina americana), a day-flying moth that visits wild quinine in late spring for nectar. (Photo: acryptozoo / Flikr.com)

 

As an ornamental, wild quinine may be overlooked in favor of showier plants—its slender habit and tiny bright white flowers make it easy to mix in as “filler” among other plants like baby’s breath in a bouquet. The plant mixes especially well with orange butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). The two plants will grow without competing with one another and look marvelous when in bloom together.

 

wild quinine on high line new york
Wild quinine was used extensively as part of the plantings on the High Line in New York—which makes sense as it's highly tolerant of hot, sunny locations, and is an excellent visual "filler" amongst other plants. Here is is among bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). (Photo: cultivar413 / Flikr.com)

 

Best for: Supporting a treasure-trove of tiny pollinators including predatory wasps, flies, and solitary bees.

Native Range: Most of the eastern states except Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Florida.

 

Authors

Justin was formerly the Xerces Society's Web and Communications Coordinator, managing the website, blogs, and social media. As a Penn State Extension Master Gardener, Justin provides education and outreach to his community on a range of gardening-related subjects such as sustainable and pollinator-friendly gardening practices. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

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