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Bring on the Hummingbirds

Posted on Nov 21st 2018

Anita Westervelt

If you want to attract hummingbirds without the mess of cleaning and filling feeders, there’s a tree for that.

And it’s tree planting in the Valley. November through February’s cooler months allow roots to grow without heat and drought stress, which helps trees and plants flourish with the spring rains.

The Buff-bellied Hummingbird is our only year-round resident hummer. One of the larger hummingbird species, it has a red bill and green throat. Two other species, ruby-throated and black-chinned, are recurring visitors during their migration periods.

Hummingbirds perch nearly 80 percent of the time. Their diet consists mostly of nectar, although 10 percent is protein from insects and spiders.

Our buff-bellied population is declining because of habitat loss. You can help, one tree at a time. Good hummingbird habitat offers nectar, native bugs, branches for perching, and dense foliage for protection and nests.

Tubular and trumpet-shaped blooms attract hummingbirds. If you’ve room, offer a variety of plants. Here is a selection of popular native trees and plants that attract hummingbirds as well as butterflies.

Wild olive (Cordia boissieri) produces small clusters of funnel-shaped white blossoms with yellow centers. It blooms all year which makes it a most important nectar source for hummingbirds and butterflies. Prune lower branches for a traditional tree-like shape.

Mexican caesalpinia (Caesalpinia Mexicana) (pictured) is smaller than wild olive. In the legume family, it forms large clusters of deep-yellow flowers. It can be encouraged to bloom through much of the year with scheduled watering. Attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Occasional pruning keeps it shapely.

Yellow sophora (Sophora tomentosa) is an airy, wispy-looking medium-sized shrub. It’s a prolific bloomer with graceful falls of soft, pastel yellow blooms spring to winter. The soft hairy leaves give it a grey/green pastoral look. Occasional watering keeps this shrub blooming. Also called necklace pod, seeds form strings of berries reminiscent of 1950s Pop Beads.

Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) loves a bit of shade and can grow into a fairly large shrub with intricate red blooms through most of the year. Hummingbirds and butterflies will flock to this plant.

Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) is an unusual, small tree. In spring, it pushes out magenta-colored tubular blooms shaped like a fourth of July sparkler. Blooms provide nectar for hummingbirds and orioles. Leaves follow the blooms; by summer, long dark seedpods hold crimson seeds that seem to hang in the balance. Relatively slow growing. Blooms may not appear if you leave the Valley too early in spring. It’s worth planting if you’re a permanent resident.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) is a must-have plant for blooms during all seasons. Tiny crimson blooms encircle stalks that reach 18 to 24 inches tall. Great nectar plant for hummingbirds and butterflies. Readily self-propagates, tolerates clay soil; grows in full sun or partial shade. Drought tolerant.

Snapdragon vine (Maurandya antirrhiniflora), pictured below, is a tiny, delicate-looking vine with lavender and cream flowers that can be trained on a small trellis, allowed to drape statuary, meander over a shrub or small tree, or planted in a rock garden and to travel over the ground. Excellent nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. Prolific bloomer nearly all winter. Also self-propagates but easily controlled, if not wanted.

If you have room for only one plant, make it an olive tree because it will feed the hummers all year long. Planting a Turk’s cap at the base of a wild olive won’t take up much more space, and will also provide nectar all year long; branches will travel into the tree canopy. Oh, well, might as well put in a couple of snapdragon vines because they take up no room at all. And then, there’s always room for one more small tree, so you might as well get a Mexican caesalpinia, too.