Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
When designing butterfly and bird gardens, gardeners should consider including some cacti and succulents. Many of these species provide much needed nectar and pollen for hummingbirds and butterflies as well as other foraging insects. These plants can be grown in containers or garden beds.
Many of these cacti and succulents are quite rich in nectar. In fact, the wax plant (Hoya carnosa) produces such quantities that it can drip from the flowers. The same thing can happen with snake plant blossoms.
Depending on the climate, the nectar plants might be tender or hardy. Non-hardy ones can be brought indoors for the winter.
Though it is true that hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers, they also seek out blossoms of other colors as well. They often prefer tubular-shaped blooms or ones that are bell-like.
Aloes are a good choice for a hummingbird garden since the blooms are shaped like bells. These nectar flowers are often brightly colored, which makes it easy for the bird to locate them. The agaves and yucca flowers are also the right shape for these birds.
The agaves have long lasting flowers. In general almost all of the cactus blossoms are very suitable for bird and butterfly gardens. These blossoms can vary widely in shape, size, and color from one species to another. These blooms don‘t tend to last quite as long as those of some succulents—perhaps just a few days. But, they are very rich in nectar and pollen.
Even the common moss rose and the flowering purslanes are suitable for bird and butterfly gardens. Select ones with single blooms as the double flowering types don’t always produce nectar and pollen. If you don’t have enough garden space, just grow these in hanging baskets. There are many improved varieties with the flowers coming in a wide range of colors. There are ones to suit every color scheme.
Select sun loving cacti when possible as the butterflies and other insects need the warmth of the sun in order to remain active.
The true yuccas as well as the red yuccas (Hesperaloe spp.) are suitable for butterfly and bird gardens. The red yuccas can vary in hardiness. Some are hardy to zone six. These are generally native to the Southwestern states. The plants resemble true yuccas. One of the main differences is the flower color. Those of the red yuccas are red or yellow. These blooms are tubular shaped.
For perennials in the butterfly and bird garden, you can’t beat the spurges. Generally introduced from Europe, most spurges tend to bloom in the spring and early summer. As with the poinsettia, the floral bracts are the colorful part of the spurge plants. The true flowers are small and inconspicuous. Butterflies and birds seek pollen and nectar from these plants.