Birds and Beyond
Flowers for Birds and Butterflies
Claire Curry, February 2003, Wise County Messenger, © 2003
It was hot out. Too hot to go walking. So, I just sat out in the yard, binoculars in hand. Most of the birds were a bit smarter than I, and only showed up in the heat occasionally or soared overhead. On the flower pots to either side of my log bench, though, butterflies flitted about on masses of color. A Giant Swallowtail and a Gulf Fritillary stopped at the pentas, while jumpy little skippers moved from flower to flower on the zinnias. A hummingbird sipped from magenta salvia blooms across the yard.
Plants are an important part of any yard, especially if you want to attract birds and butterflies. Not just any flowers will do, though. Native plants are generally the best for wildlife, non-invasive, and adapted to the climate here. Gayfeather and blazing-star are beautiful purple wildflowers that attract oodles of butterflies. When they bloom at my house, butterflies practically drip off of them. Milkweeds are the host plant for Monarchs and Queen butterflies, and some, such as butterfly weed, have lovely flowers. Sages (or salvia) are good flowers for both hummingbirds and butterflies. Other plants to consider include yaupon holly (produces berries for the birds), Mexican plum (both flowers and small plums), lantana (butterflies are love the native species), columbine, penstemons, Turk’s Cap, cardinal flower, cross vine, trumpet vine (good for hummers), standing cypress (a wildflower, not a tree), sunflowers (both nectar for butterflies and seeds for birds), verbena (nectar for birds and butterflies), bee balm, horsemint, Purple Coneflower (nectar when blooming, seeds when the flower dies), thistles, goldenrod (butterflies love this and it really isn’t a cause of allergies), daisies and asters, winecup, coral honeysuckle (pretty red tubular flowers that hummingbirds love, and it has red berries), passionflowers (the host plant for the stunning Gulf Fritillary), and sumac. Although you may be inclined to think of sumac as a nuisance, it produces berries for delightful birds such as bluebirds, robins, and mockingbirds, and has stunning red leaves in the fall. Also, if you find a caterpillar munching away on your passionflowers, let it be! It could be a future Gulf Fritillary. For more information on native plants, check out the Native Plant Society of Texas’s website: www.npsot.org.
Zinnias, pentas, marigolds, and butterfly bush, although non-native, are also great flowers for butterflies and hummers. Many of the butterflies I watched at my flower pots stopped by for a drink at the zinnias and pentas. In the winter, seeds from the zinnias and marigolds provide food for birds like goldfinches and sparrows, so consider leaving the dead flower heads on the plants.
Finally, if you are planning to get some native plants, the Trinity Forks-Denton chapter of the Native Plant Society is selling native plants at the Redbud Day Festival on March 8 from 8am to 3pm at the Denton Civic Center on McKinney Street and Bell Avenue.