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Hummingbird Plants for Your Garden

Lynn Hassler, Garden Volunteer Captain; photos by Lynn Hassler
In general, hummingbirds prefer long, slender tubular flowers in the red-orange range. Thin tubular flowers generally have more nectar at the base, which is difficult for bees and other insects to reach. These types of flowers and the long bills and tongues of tiny hummingbirds have evolved together over time. And as hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, carrying pollen and nectar, they also play an important role as pollinators.

Hummingbirds will certainly visit flowers of other colors—purple is popular—and other shapes as well. Plants with staminate flowers turn out to be quite enticing.

Autumn Sage: An All-Star Hummingbird Plant

salvia_Lynn_hasslerScientific name: Salvia greggii
Family: Laminaceae (Mint)
Native range: Western Texas south throughout much of north-central Mexico, 4000–10,000 feet
Wildlife value: Flowers attract hummingbirds, quail, lizards, and sulphur butterflies

This small, sprawling, evergreen shrub grows 2-3 feet high and wide, and is well used in patios and around pools in southwestern landscapes. One-inch long, pinkish red flowers appear on 6–10 inch spikes on and off throughout the year but especially in spring and fall. There are other color forms—purple, white, orange, yellow—but the magenta are my favorite.

Autumn sage is a moderately fast grower and moderate water user (it looks better in summer with weekly supplemental water). Plant these hardy (to 5 degrees F) shrubs from one gallon containers in fall or spring. Morning sun or light shade is the best orientation in Tucson; full sun is appropriate at higher elevations. Good drainage is essential since plants have a tendency to rot out. Dismiss any pruning phobias because autumn sage invariably becomes woody over time and needs to be cut back hard in early spring in order to regenerate new growth. The nectar-filled tubular flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds and also attract sulphur butterflies. Gambel’s quail enjoy picking off the blooms and feasting on them, as do desert spiny lizards.

The genus is from the Latin salvus (“safe,” “unharmed”) referring to certain salvia species with medicinal virtues. The species name is after Josiah Gregg (1806–1850), plant collector who explored and wrote about the Southwest.

MORE GREAT HUMMINGBIRD PLANTS

Penstemon parryi, Parry penstemon
The best penstemon for planting in the Tucson Basin, and it’s a show stopper. Captivating pink flower displays are a sign of early spring. Plant en masse for optimal visual effect and for visiting hummers.

Calliandra eriophylla, fairy duster
Beautiful flowers, with sprays of stamens resembling tiny dusters, are sweetly attractive to hummingbirds. And you just might get tickled by seeds that fling out from exploding seedpods following the blooms.

Fouquieria splendens, ocotillo
With its distinctive shape, ocotillo makes a bold focal point in the landscape. Tall, arching branches reach high to the sky and provide ideal spots for perching birds. Flame-colored blooms in spring attract hummingbirds as well as Verdins and orioles.

Justicia californica, chuparosa
Chuparosa literally means “hummingbird” in Spanish. Plant this red-flowering shrub with its green photosynthesizing stems next to a south-facing wall for nearly continuous bloom. There is also a yellow-flowering form, but the hummers don’t seem to find that hue quite as attractive.

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Tucson Audubon Society

300 E University Blvd. #120
Tucson, AZ 85705

Mason Center
3835 W Hardy Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85742

Paton Center for Hummingbirds
477 Pennsylvania Ave.
Patagonia, AZ 85624