Hummingbirds are so entirely unique and captivating, that it seems like a treat anytime we are graced by their presence with a visit to our plants. Even more so when we planted those plants specifically with this in mind! Undoubtedly hummingbird feeders have their value, and yet somehow there is something very special about a hummingbird actually drinking nature’s true nectar, sourced directly from the flowers in our gardens. There is something exceptional about them, maybe their minute size; perhaps their bringing a touch of the tropics to Illinois; or even their unique flying style? Whether flying forwards, backwards, hovering or being upside down, hummingbirds can certainly do it all! And the plants that appeal to hummingbirds can sometimes be identified by these very unique characteristics and habits. Note how hummingbirds have a long slender beak, this is reflected in the flowers they favor, long and tubular. Next, pay attention to the incredible flight capabilities of hummingbirds, allowing them to reach otherwise impossible blooms like the pendulous Fuchsia flowers. And lastly be aware that hummingbirds are attracted to flowers predominantly by sight rather than by smell, so whilst those sweet-smelling blossoms might work miracles on bees, hummingbirds will need a visual stimulus instead. Seek out suitable flowers with strong colors, red being the most popular, but also oranges, yellows and blues.
When taking on the task of researching hummingbird friendly plants one soon discovers that the list is endless, so where to start? Something not everyone thinks of at first is continuity, in other words ensuring there is a continuous bloom of flowers throughout the seasons from those early first arrivers until the very last stragglers. A possible combination for maximum bloom time could be Columbine-Honeysuckle-Goldenrod. Then does one wish to replant every year or not? Choosing perennials eliminates the need for replanting. And the last question, native or non-native plants? When considering all these factor one realizes, there can be a lot more to planning a hummingbird garden than selecting random hummingbird favorites. Below are a selection of some highlighted favorites.
Aquilegia canadensis – Red Columbine (US) early bloomer
Lobelia cardinalis – Cardinal flower (ILL) native
Lonicera sempervirens – Honeysuckle (SE US) perennial
Kniphofia hirsuta ‘Fire Dance’ – Red Hot Poker (Africa) tropical look
Campsis radicans – Trumpet vine (SE US) perennial
Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ – Black and Blue Salvia (S America) annual
Monarda didyma - Bee Balm (US, Canada) native
Cuphea ignea ‘Firecracker’ – Firecracker or Cigar Plant (Mexico, West Indies) annual
Others: Candy Corn Vine (Manettia bicolor), Mandevilla, Cleome, Dianthus, Nicotiana, Zinnia, Petunia, Verbena, Delphinium, Penstemon, Garden Phlox, Lantana, Fuchsia and Heuchera ‘Coral Bells’.
And despite these guidelines be aware that hummingbirds can be unpredictable in their tastes and habits, changing their preferences from day to day!