Hummingbird PollinatorsBy Diana Wind (wind)
May 29, 2013
IEditor's Note: This article was originally published on June 16, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
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Hummingbirds bring great enjoyment to gardeners. I can still remember the day we set out our first feeder. On this special occasion I invited my mother over and we set up a few lawn chairs to watch the event. What a disappointment it was when nothing happened and our feeder didn't attract a single hummer! But I didn't give up. After reading a few books and discovering the best ways to attract hummingbirds, I realized our yard didn't have any of their favorite plants.
After planting some hummingbird-friendly plants, sure enough, they began to appear. I'll never forget how exciting it was to see our first visitors.
Top 10 Hummingbird Blooms
*The flowers marked with an asterisk (*) are in agreement with Operation Ruby Throats top 10 lists. For additional top 10 plant listings of both native and tropicals, visit Operation Ruby Throat™ -- one of the best websites for up-to-date hummingbird information.
This list is not in any order of preference; they are all hummingbird favorites. These selections are in the breeding range of ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), in the East and Midwest.
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#1: trumpet vine,*
Trumpet Creeper, Campsis radicans
zones 4a-10b, red/orange, orange, or yellow blooms; can be invasive
#2: trumpet honeysuckle,*
Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
zones 5a-10b; several cultivars include: 'Blanche Sandman', 'John Clayton', 'Cedar Lane'
#3: Monarda,* Bee Balm
perennial herb with a culinary bonus: Leaves make tea and blooms are edible in salads and cakes!
zones 4a-9b; several bloom colors, cultivars and species
#4: Salvia, Sage
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#5: Canada lily,* Meadow Lily, Lilium canadense
zones 3a-9b, 36-48 inches tall, bloom colors include red, orange, bright yellow; fragrant
#6 cigar plant,* Firecracker plant (Cuphea ignea)
zones 8a-11, tender perennial/shrub; there are also other species
#7: spotted jewelweed,*
Touch-Me-Knot, Impatiens capensis
#8: cardinal flower,* Lobelia cardinalis -
zones 2a-9b; 24-36 inches tall; bloom colors: wine, red, white. Cultivars include: 'Shrimp Salad', 'Compliment Scarlet', 'Alba'; prefers moist soil
Tubular blooms, including:
canna lily, indian shot, Canna indica, as well as other Cannas
Indian Pink,* Spigelia marilandica (there are other species too);
Catawba Rhododendron*, Rhododendron 'Catawbiense Grandiflorum' (there are a few other cultivars too)
Pinxter Azalea , Rhododendron canescens
Crossvine, Bignonia capreolata (several cultivars)
Cape Fuchsia, Phygelius (shown) - several species and cultivars
This genus has many cultivars and species
Agastache foeniculum or Anise hyssop - perennial herb with a bonus: The leaves are great in recipes (cakes) and goldfinches love the seeds!
#10: red buckeye*, Aesculus pavia
tree; zones 4a-9b
several cultivars, including 'Atrosanguinea' and 'Humilis'
The best way to attract hummingbirds is to include some of these hummingbird favorites in a hummingbird habitat garden.
Ingredients for a Hummingbird Habitat
- Provide energy (nectar) with some of those favorite flowering plants and maybe a few hummingbird feeders.
- Go Green - that is, avoid use of harmful sprays and poisons since hummers frequently rub up against blooms and eat insects for protein, providing food and nutrition.
- Add a water source.
- Leave spider webs and old trees with lichen on them (hummingbirds use lichen and spider webs in their nests).
Bird pollination (ornithophily) occurs in over 60 flowering plant families  and is often studied to learn more about evolutionary pollination shifts -- for example, between bees and birds, and how flowers' features and attraction mechanisms (color, size, shape and scent) and genetics have been changing over time.
Bird pollinators include American orioles (Icteridae) and honeycreepers in the tanager family (Thraupidae); however, the major groups of bird pollinators are hummingbirds (Trochilidae), sunbirds (Nectariniidae) and honey-eaters (Meliphagidae).
Sunbirds are found in Asia and Africa, Honey-eaters in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. In general, bird pollination does not occur in Europe and Asia, north of the Himalayas.  Hummingbirds mainly breed in South America and north, to Alaska. Their North America migration is an amazing annual event often tracked on various websites, as people report when they first see birds in their area.
Why Pollination is Needed
The reproductive plant parts utilized in pollination are most apparent in a lily. The lily picture (shown) is from my garden journal. Despite the small type size try to focus on the reproductive parts of the flower. Studying your flower blooms is a botany lesson all in itself.
Pollination occurs when pollen grains from the anthers (the male part of the plant) reach the female stigma that leads to an ovary. The pollen is transferred when small mammals such as bats or animals such as birds (including hummingbirds), butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, or other insects, rub against the blossoms anthers and get pollen on their bodies, which they then carry to the stigma of a nearby similar plant. Most flowering plants rely on animal pollinators; some rely on wind to carry the pollen.
A Lesson in Pollination Video
Directed by Tim Johnsen and Charlie Bueche
Attraction to Red
Ornithophilous blooms are often red and unscented; they play a role in attracting birds and deterring bees (bees can't see red) to pollinate them. Nectar gives energy to the birds and is their reward for pollinating the blooms. Hummers visit all color blooms, but have evolved to especially be attracted to nectar-rich reds.
Photo Credits: Mouse over each photo to read the photo credits. All photos Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Special thanks to DG members for permission to include their photos: 'UncleGreenthumb' for his outstanding photograph of a hummingbird visiting a hibiscus blossom. Cardinal Flower photo by 'Kell', Aesculus pavia by 'Melody', Hummingbirds visiting various blooms by 'OneWish', Flowers reproduction by 'Wind'.
 Cronk Q, Ojeda I, Bird-pollinated flowers in an evolutionary and molecular context, Journal of Experimental Botany, Vol. 59. No. 4, pp. 715-727, 2008.
Hummingbirds, Nature's Kamikazes: Attracting and enjoying the Ruby-throat hummingbird: Part I - by Melody Rose
Hummingbirds, Nature's Kamaikazes: Information and tips to enjoying them: Part 2 - by Melody Rose
Hummingbirds, Nature's Kamaikazes: Information and tips to enjoying them: Part 3 - by Melody Rose