Texas Treehugger | "Planning and Planting Ahead for Hummingbird Season" | Text by Christy Ilfrey, Photos by Dave Ilfrey

Above: A Monarch Butterfly enjoys a drink from a Turk's Cap
Many colorful plants that attract Hummingbirds will also attract Butterflies
Whether planting edibles or ornamentals, veteran gardeners will advise you to plan ahead. Today, I’m looking ahead to September 17-20th when our community will celebrate its 27th annual HummerBird Festival. This celebration of our tiny winged residents and seasonal visitors is always a good source of information and inspiration. The Hummer Home Tour is one of my favorite events; it is an opportunity to see hummingbird-attracting plants “in action.”

Regularly David and I are asked about native plants that attract hummingbirds. A good rule of thumb is to look for red, bell-shaped blooms. There are exceptions, however, so it is important to consult a knowledgeable horticulturist to garner the most accurate information. Now is the time to plant natives that will invite hummingbirds to your garden.

Perhaps the primary “hummerplant” for the Coastal Bend is Turk’s Cap, also known as Wax Mallow, or Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii. Its scarlet blooms resemble a closed hibiscus bloom, and the shape perfectly complements the hummingbird’s curling tongue as it slurps nectar. Turk’s Cap grows naturally along the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Florida, and along the Atlantic coast, from Georgia to North Carolina. In Texas, it is native to numerous counties, including Aransas and San Patricio. This versatile plant grows in full sun to deep shade, but it prefers a little of both (dappled light is best.) In sunny areas, Turk’s Cap tends to grow taller and almost conical; in shade, it is inclined to remain closer to the ground and round. Resident as well as migratory species really love this heart-leafed perennial. Humans will find the hips edible, too.

Another top attractor is Coralbean, or Erythrina herbacea. The spiky flower blooms in conjunction with the cycle of certain migratory species, but resident species are fond of it, too. Coralbean, like Turk’s Cap, grows in a variety of lighting conditions, from full sun to deep shade, and also prefers dappled light. Coralbean is native to Aransas, Refugio and Nueces among several other Texas counties. This native shrub can be groomed into a small tree. Parts of this plant are edible, parts are toxic, but if you do your research, this native hummerplant could also be a source of nutrition for you and your family. Visit “Green Deane” at eattheweeds.com to learn more.

One surprising favorite of hummingbirds is Texas Lantana, or Lantana horrida. This perennial small shrub has orange and yellow button-shaped clusters of flowers, not the customary red or bell-shaped blooms hummers typically prefer. This guy likes it hot and dry, so make sure you plant it in well-draining soil where it will receive at least four or five hours of sunlight per day. Lantana is fiercely independent: try not to smother it with love or it will shrug away from you. Water it when you plant it, and every few days when the soil is dry. If it’s moist, go away and check again tomorrow. Other Coastal natives great for gardening with hummingbirds are Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens (Jackson County and a few in the Houston/Galveston area); Yellow Bells or Esperanza, Tecoma stans (Goliad and Victoria Counties and several in West Texas); and Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis (Aransas, San Patricio, Nueces, Kleberg and Calhoun Counties, locally.) Despite its name, Texas Star Hibiscus, Hibiscus coccineus, is not native to Texas. Its natural distribution is Florida west to Mississippi. However, this glorious shrub is a favorite among hummers, causes no ecological problems, and functions similar to true Texas natives. All of these and other hummerplants frequently find their way into our designs and make appearances at our weekly plant sales. All will thrive in our local climatic conditions without excessive watering, synthetic chemicals, maintenance, and without destroying habitat belonging to native wildlife. Most importantly, each plant represents a facet of the natural beauty of Texas’ Coastal Bend; they create a sense of place.

Christy Ilfrey and her husband Dave own and operate NativeDave.com. Their mission: "To make positive changes in our community by way of sustainable landscape design and consultation services, speaking engagements and writing projects. We strive to educate, entertain and empower audiences to conserve, preserve, restore and celebrate Nature."

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