Hummingbirds are coming! Our native ruby-throated hummingbirds have been spotted in the southern UP. Hummingbird feeders are sweet (!) but require constant maintenance and provide questionable nutrition. Replace or supplement your feeders with the native plants hummingbirds are seeking! Here are our top 5 plants for providing them with nectar during their stay:
1. Spotted Bee Balm - Mondara punctata
Spotted Bee Balm, also known as Horsemint, has unusual delicately spotted tubular flowers with a landing strip of purple dots to attract hummingbirds and butterflies to abundant nectar in late summer to early fall. This unique plant also draws bees, moths, and beneficial wasps. Predatory wasps are good for your garden because they control grubs, pest caterpillars, and other harmful insects.
Spotted bee balm can be 2 to 3 feet high with flowers occurring in whorls, forming a dense, elongated spike at the end of the stem. It is not fussy, growing in full sun to partial shade, wet to dry soil, and loam or sandy soils.
Looking for something unusual that hummingbirds will love? Liven up your garden with Spotted Bee Balm!
2. Wild Columbine - Aquilegia canadensis
Why Wild Columbine, instead of the various cultivars sold at commercial greenhouses? Because our hummingbirds and our wild native Columbine have evolved together. The colors, shapes, patterns, and scents, some undetectable to humans, are exactly what is needed by hummingbirds and pollinators. Besides, how could anything be prettier that the light reds and yellows of this display?
This native perennial reaches 3 feet tall and flowers early, giving hummingbirds an early season food source. It tolerates full sun or full shade, moist or dry soil and will grow in muck, clay, loam, or sand.
3. White Turtlehead - Chelone glabra
With a shape that seems made for hummingbirds (and probably is), you should definitely try and sneak White Turtlehead into your garden. This interesting perennial wildflower is found in the UP along stream banks, rivers, lakes and damp ground. Turtlehead flowers are hardy, require minimal maintenance and provide lots of late season light and texture to the landscape.
Given full sun and wet soil, this perennial UP native wildflower can reach up to 5 feet tall! Blooming mid to late summer, it will grow in muck, clay, or loam. If you have a wet area near your home, White Turtlehead would fit right in.
4. Hairy Beardtongue - Penstemon hirsutus
What a name! It doesn't sound appetizing at all. But then, it wasn't named by hummingbirds. Penstemon hirsutus (Hairy beardtongue) gets its common name from the long, thin blooms with a hairy lip and yellow tongue. Clusters of flowers cover the top half of the stems in summer, while opposite leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall.
The unique shape is great at attracting long-tongued pollinators like certain bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. It is also a host plant for butterfly caterpillars. Stunning in clusters, Hairy Beardtongue can reach 3 feet tall and flowers late spring to mid-summer. It takes either full sun or full shade, medium to dry soil and will grow in clay, loam, or sand.
5. Cardinal Flower - Lobelia cardinalis
Of course, no list of hummingbird native flowers would be complete without Cardinal Flower. This is the flower color that hummingbird feeder designers seek to emulate. Why buy the feeder when you can plant flowers that return year after year? This UP perennial wildflower is a beautiful and excellent source of nectar that lures birds, butterflies, and people alike. The foliage also hosts caterpillars of both butterflies and moths.
It prefers wet soils, but is quite adaptable and will happily accept medium levels of moisture. Under good conditions, it can reach 4 feet tall and flowers from July to September. It enjoys full sun to partial shade and will grow in muck, clay, or loam.