You Can Grow Pretty Pollinator Plants Like Native Zinnia!

People are concerned about the recent decline in native pollinators. This has highlighted the need to grow more native plants in our yards. Great idea! But most gardeners want colorful plants in their yards. Never fear – native zinnia are here!

The brains of native pollinators are programed to look for certain flowers – like white zinnias.

Landscape with Native Zinnias

First of all, these lovely native zinnias are perennial, and live for many years. Better yet, both species will bloom for months, providing a steady splash of color in your landscape. Since they are native, they are used to living in the somewhat challenging conditions of the Southwest and need very little care or fuss. Best of all — they need little to no extra water once established.

Glowing golden flowers make these plants a charming choice for a groundcover. Photo courtesy of R. Spellenberg.

Pick from These Two

There are two species of native zinnia readily available in the nursery trade in the Southwest – desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa) and prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora). The care for both is highly similar.

Sometimes you need splashes of white in the landscape. Photo courtesy of R. Spellenberg.

Which is Which?

Desert zinnia has white flowers, and is native to Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas, where it is found in hotter, dryer sites than its cousin. The desert zinnia can survive on 8 to 20 inches of rain a year.

Photo courtesy of R. Spellenberg
Photo courtesy of R. Spellenberg


Prairie zinnia has golden flowers, is found in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, and prefers the cooler prairie areas of these states. In the wild it gets generally 15 to 25 inches of rain a year, and can survive colder winter temperatures than its desert cousin.

Confusingly, Zinnia grandiflora, the prairie zinnia, is often sold as “desert zinnia” because nurseries want gardeners to know it needs little water. In Colorado, they sell it as “Rocky Mountain zinnia,” to highlight its native status.



Planting Native Zinnias

You can purchase these natives in pots from local nurseries (but not big box stores). Plant them in well-drained soil and water to help them become established. Note that both of these perennial species need well-drained soil. If you live in an area of clay soil, be sure you add ample drainage material to their soil – sand and compost – when you plant them.

These plants are great in a low-water landscape to help “fill in” spaces, like around boulders, or under trees that offer filtered shade like palo verde. Plant native zinnia as a groundcover or as a border. Consider them as an alternative to the frost-tender lantana. Both species discussed here are excellent for attracting many of the smaller native butterflies.

Seed Grown

Plant these as seed.  It’s a quick way to get these natives established in your yard. If some live near you, simply collect a handful of the papery flowers and plant them! Scrape a shallow hole about a quarter inch deep, sprinkle the seed in, and cover with soil. You need to cover seed to hide it from the voracious seed-eating birds. Add water once a week, and soon you will have a number of lovely plants.

Two different species of zinnia grow together in this shot, perennial desert zinnia and annual Zinnia anomala. Photo courtesy of W. Anderson.

Both species of native zinnia (along with others) grow along our Southwestern roads – planted by highway departments. They are so easy to grow from seed that they are often included in revegetation mixes.


If you live in Arizona, consider the lectures mentioned on our Facebook page. Or consider booking any one of our team for a lecture to your HOA or garden club.  After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including “Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there we may get a few pennies.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit, plus you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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    • Jacqueline Soule

      Barbara – it would help to know what state you are in. Here in Tucson you can check seed of Z. acerosa out of the Pima County Seed Library using your standard Pima County library card! All they ask is that you share seed back to them at some future date. (I donated about 1/4 pound to the Seed Library this fall.)

  • Scratchbaker

    How resistant are these native zinnias to rabbits, javelina, and deer? As pollinators, do they attract bees? As wild flowers, how do they spread? Can they become invasive? These are questions I need to know before I introduce a new plant. Thanks.

  • Lynn Brusa

    Thanks for the information, we have roaming javelinas in our area, will they tear these plants up or eat them?

    • Jacqueline Soule

      Since I wrote about them, I can address your concerns. 1) Resistant to javalina, deer, and rabbits in Arizona. 2) They are highly attractive to several species of native solitary bee, including a rare species of Sonoran Desert ground nesting, non-stinging cellophane bee. Honeybees also visit them. 3) They will spread (mine love it over the septic tank!), but they spread from seed and are easy to pull up if you don’t want them somewhere. 4) By definition they can not become invasive because they are native. If you are wondering if they can become a mono-culture – I have not see it happen.