It’s happening as we speak. Visitors from Mexico and Central America are arriving daily in the Triangle, and boy are their wings tired. I’m speaking of a hummingbird, of course. With thousands of miles behind them, these diminutive aviators have come here to breed and raise their young, and in the process to enliven our gardens with their unmistakable song and energetic antics.
We’re going to zoom in on the most common “summer hummer” for this part of the country, the ruby throated hummingbird (Archilocus colubris), and how we can attract and sustain this fascinating species using native plants in the garden.
Ruby throated hummingbirds are tiny creatures. The males weigh in at about 3 grams, with the females about 20 percent larger. Like other animals of similar stature (mice, moles and shrews), their metabolism is off the charts, and they are constantly looking for sources of energy.
While many of us have a hummingbird feeder to dispense sugar water in our yards, we should also look at the hummer’s other diet needs to thrive and raise their young. A diverse mix of native perennials, vines, trees and shrubs in your yard will go a long way toward enhancing your hummingbird curb appeal, and it will help sustain them through the summer.
For the most part, flowers that attract hummingbirds are tubular in nature, to accommodate their long, thin bill. It has been theorized that the red-orange color spectrum is attractive to them, and indeed many of the native plant species that they frequent are in this range.
Some good examples of plants that allow them to use their aerial prowess and meet their color criteria include our native vines. Cross vine (Anisostichus capreolata) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) are excellent, especially if space is an issue. Just plant them on a fence post or next to a downspout and let them grow. Another great vine species is coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). As far as perennials go, bee balm (Monarda species), cardinal flower (Lobelia species) and Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica) attract hummers.
Native azaleas like the pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymeniodes) and the Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) do a great job, and they smell great to boot! Trees like red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) finish off the canopy layer.
To round out your hummingbird garden, add some splashing water. A fountain that creates a spray they can fly through will delight them, and a cascading stream that does the same will add a natural touch to the landscape.
If you haven’t spied any Ruby Throats in your area yet, have no fear, they’re here. You just need to roll out the red carpet for them in the form of a garden they can call home, and sit back and enjoy the results.
Visit this website for info on all things ruby throat, including conservation efforts to preserve their health and habitat.
Stefan Bloodworth is the curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Durham’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens. He’s also a landscape contractor specializing in native habitats. See his blog at blomquistgarden.blogspot.com.