Food for hummingbirds

Hummingbird eating insects ©Janet AllenHummingbird chowing down on a cloud of tiny insects hovering over our pond

When people think of providing food for hummingbirds, they may first think of providing feeders, and then they probably think of nectar plants—especially plants with tubular red flowers.

It's true that hummers like tubular red flowers, but we've also seen them nectaring on flowers of other colors and other shapes.

Hummingbird eating an insect ©Janet AllenHummingbird chasing an insect

But most people don't realize that insects are an important food for hummingbirds, too.

And as with other birds, insects are an essential food for their young.

Top nectar plants

Trumpet vine ©Janet AllenTrumpet vine flower - 'Flava'

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is generally listed as the top hummingbird plant. We have one, but it's growing in an out-of-the-way place in shade, so I suspect it won't flower much.

We're waiting for an appropriate place—most likely our maple tree once it dies and becomes a tall snag—and then we'll be able to have a trumpet vine that can climb all it wants. When we do plant a trumpet vine there, we'll get the usual scarlet variety rather than this cultivar we happened to get many years ago. I'm sure the hummers will appreciate this, and growing in an appropriate location, it can be spectacular for people, too.

Monarda ©Janet AllenBeebalm is a favorite

Number two on the list of top hummingbird plants is beebalm (Monarda didyma).

I see hummingbirds nectaring at the beebalm as much as on any other plant.

Beebalm is very easy to grow, though being in the mint family, it does spread by underground roots. Extras are easy to pull up though.

(This plant is also good for bees and other insects, too.)

Hummingbird at a honeysuckle ©Janet AllenHummingbird at a honeysuckle

Number three on the list is trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).

The hummingbird also loves these native trumpet honeysuckle flowers.

I love this native honeysuckle as much as the hummingbird does. It blooms all season and has beautiful flowers.

Many years ago we were sold a Japanese honeysuckle vine, and it did have a lovely fragrance. But (somewhat reluctantly, I admit) we got rid of it because these non-native invasive plants just aren't good for the birds and the world we're trying to protect.

Hummingbird at a cardinal flower ©Janet AllenHummingbird at a cardinal flower

Number four on the list is cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

This cardinal flower lobelia is a beautiful native plant—and this brilliant red flower is, not surprisingly, a hummingbird favorite.

Given the correct moist conditions, this plant is easy to grow, but seemingly not long-lived.

We think we may have finally established a good self-seeding colony in our stream, after a number of attempts.

Hummingbird at jewelweed ©Janet AllenHummingbird nectaring at a jewelweed

Number five on the list is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).

Jewelweed is the native variety of impatiens. It's a hummingbird favorite and also a favorite of bumble bees, doubling its benefits.

Like the impatiens sold as bedding plants (which are NOT native and apparently devoid of nectar), it likes to be moist. I don't supply any additional watering, it just finds the moister places in the yard.

Hummingbird ©Janet Allen

And it WILL find locations. In fact, if you plant one, you'll have hundreds (at least). The good news is that they're extremely easy to pull out, which I do frequently.

All in all, we judge the minor inconvenience of pulling out all the extras well worth it for its great habitat benefits.

I really enjoy seeing the hummingbirds and bees they attract.

Red columbine ©Janet AllenRed columbine

Number six on the list is the native red columbine (Aquilegia canadense). There are lots of hybrids out there, but this is the real thing.

It's pretty easy to grow once it gets established, and seedlings will pop up here and there.

It readily hybridizes with other columbines, so I try to confine this to the backyard since I have leftover hybrids from my ornamental gardening days in the front yard.

Spigelia ©Janet Allen
Spigelia (aka Indian pink)

We don't yet have any Canada lily (Lilium canadense) (number 7).

We did plant an Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica) (number 8). Since it's in the front woodland garden, we're less likely to notice if the hummingbird finds it, though, and so far, we only have one plant so with all the competition in the backyard—full of hummer favorites— I wonder if he'll find it.

Hummer on buckeye ©Janet AllenBottlebrush buckeye

We don't have a red buckeye (number 9), but we do have a bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) that the hummingbird likes.

Rhododendron ©Janet AllenOur front yard rhododendron

Number ten on the list is rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense).

We have a large group of rhododendron, but since it's in the front yard, we would not be as likely to notice the hummingbird at this plant.

If he likes it, though, I'm sure he's there since it's covered in blossoms every year.

Other nectar plants

Turks cap lily ©Janet Allen
Perching on a lily

Even though the "top nectar plants" are especially appealing to hummers, we've seen them nectaring at other plants, too.

Although I at first thought this was the native turk's cap lily (Lilium superbum), I now suspect that it's a non-native look-alike. I'll be searching for a "genuine" turk's cap soon. I'm sure my hummers will like it just as much.

What a convenient landing perch the flower's anther provides while the hummer is getting nectar!

Hummer with black cohosh ©Janet Allen
A hummingbird with a black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)

It seems that most of the plants in my yard that bees like, such as this black cohosh, the hummingbird likes, too.

A hummer sipping from a turtlehead ©Janet AllenHummer sipping from a turtlehead

Although most people think hummingbirds only like red flowers, we've seen them nectaring at many flowers that aren't red, such as this chelone (Chelone glabra) as well as the white-flowered black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa).

Hummingbird at milkweed ©Janet AllenHummer getting nectar from milkweed

Milkweed is essential for monarch butterflies, but it's also an important nectar plant for other creatures, such as bees. This hummingbird enjoyed it, too.

Hummer at a raspberry ©Janet Allen
At a raspberry flower

We were surprised to see this hummingbird getting some nectar—or maybe a little insect— at the raspberry plants in Our Edible Garden. Or