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Photo courtesy Stephanie Brundage / Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

FLORA: NATIVE POLLINATOR PLANTS

Hummingbird Heaven


When you think about planting to attract pollinators, it’s all about color and shape. Bees seem to be attracted to blues and violets, while butterflies are more drawn to reds, oranges and yellows. Some creatures collect pollen on their bodies, so they need a wide-open flower to roll around in. Flowers with small, tubular centers appeal to moths and butterflies with long, thin tongues. Sturdier blooms with deep tubes attract hummingbirds.

Flame acanthus is known by many names: Wright’s desert honeysuckle, Wright acanthus, Mexican flame and Texas firecracker plant. The nickname that provides a good clue to this plant is hummingbird bush, because these red-orange tubular flowers are favorites of those jeweled fliers. (The name Wright honors 19th-century botanist Charles Wright, who collected extensively in Texas.)

This prolific bloomer bursts forth during summer through the first frost across most of the state up to Dallas, though only the roots survive the frost that far north. It’s both drought- and deer-tolerant. Those who aren’t lucky enough to enjoy native sprouting can plant their own.

Flame acanthus doesn’t mind being tamed a bit, so cut it back in early spring and you’ll have a low, dense hedge, if you prefer. Otherwise, it grows to 3 or 4 feet in height and width. This plant’s not picky about soil type or water and enjoys a lot of sun.

This profuse bloomer (especially after a rain) sends out retinaculums (hooked capsules attached to seeds for propagation) each fall. The capsule breaks open and flings the seeds many feet away. Soon, your yard will be filled with these slender, reddish-orange flowers, along with happy hummingbirds. Other birds and butterflies (especially the crimson patch and the Texan crescentspot) love them, too.

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