Plants for Hummingbirds and Butterflies

San Antonio Express News
April 11, 2004

By Lynn Rawe, CEA-Horticulture

All across the great state of Texas, people are becoming more interested in attracting hummingbirds and butterflies into their landscapes. Few pleasures compare to the sight of brightly colored butterflies gracefully floating above the garden on a warm afternoon while hummingbirds zing from flower to flower in search of the perfect treat.

Hummingbirds and butterflies are often attracted to showy flowers, just as we humans are. Hummingbirds prefer red and orange flowers, and sometimes yellow. They will try other colors, however, while searching for food. Hummingbirds particularly like flowers that have a long, tubular form.

Hummers can feed on a mixture of 1 part sugar and 4 parts water. Boil this mixture for 2-3 minutes and cool before filling the feeders. Boiling the mixture helps to prevent bacteria from growing. Obviously bacteria is not healthy for the hummers, so be sure to check your feeders every few days, especially in really hot weather. Change out the sugar water as needed. Try to place your feeders in an area that does not receive full sun.

Hummingbirds, like other birds, not only require food, but water also. Having several sources of water scattered around your landscape will quench their thirst. Be sure to change the water periodically to prevent stagnation and mosquito infestations. They also like puddles. The edges of the puddles provide salt and the amino acids they need. Provide sunning rocks for them also to warm themselves. When their wings are cool, they will not fly.

Hummingbirds prefer to reside in wild, woody or brushy areas, but will travel moderate distances to feed on the sweet nectar of flowers. Because hummingbirds are territorial, it is recommended that multiple feeding sites be provided. Butterflies will prefer the yellow, purple, blue, pink and, sometimes, red flowers in your garden. Both butterflies and hummingbirds are in search of nectar, and they are particularly attracted to members of the Asteraceae family, or composite flowers. This large family includes asters, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, daisies, and even dandelions, just to mention a few. Oftentimes hybrid types of flowers are sterile, and do not have nectar. Butterflies are also attracted to ripe fruit such as bananas or apples.

Butterfly gardens must also include plants on which the larvae feed. Some of the most popular plants for butterfly larvae are passionflower vine, fennel, parley, dill, Texas Mountain Laurel and yellow bells. NEVER use any type on insecticide in your garden if you plan to have butterflies. This will kill the larvae or worm stage that later becomes the butterfly.

Stagger the heights of flowers to provide coverage for butterflies and hummingbirds. Grouping the same color and type of flowers together will attract more butterflies and hummers too. Avoid overhead sprinklers. Sprinklers wash the nectar from the flowers, so it is best to use drip irrigation in your butterfly and hummingbird garden. Be sure hummingbird feeders are filled during rainy seasons so our small friends have food to eat.

Visit your local garden center and choose some of the plants listed below to begin your butterfly or hummingbird garden today. For a complete list of plants for both hummingbirds and butterflies, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Hummingbird/Butterfly Gardening, Texas Cooperative Extension, 3355 Cherry Ridge-Suite 212, San Antonio TX 78230. You may view and print the same information from our website at: Click on “The Best Plants for Bexar County” within the Horticulture and Gardening section.

Hummingbird Garden Plants:
Althea, Chitalpa, Mexican Buckeye, Vitex, Bush Honeysuckle, Hibiscus, Spirea, Butterfly Weed, Columbine, Lantana, Monarda, Penstemmon, Mexican Bush Sage, Scarlet Sage, Turks Cap, Trumpet Vine, Morning Glory, and Crossvine.

Butterfly Garden Plants:
Aster species, Lantana species, Passion Vine, Pentas, Ruellia, Sugar Hackberry, Texas Mountain Laurel, Mexican Bush Sage and Flame Acanthus.

This article was written by Lynn Rawe, Extension Agent-Horticulture with Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County.

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