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GOING WILD WITH NATIVES: Natives for Your Hummers

Anna's hummingbirds are commonly seen in San Diego County.

By Bobbie Stephenson.

Anna’s hummingbirds are our most common species and reside year-round in many different native habitats and also in man-made vegetated landscapes throughout our region. Two others (Costa’s and Allen’s) are uncommon residents. Costa’s hummingbirds move to different areas through the year depending on what is blooming and Allen’s reside in coastal and lowland areas. In addition, black-chinned hummingbirds migrate here to spend the summer and can be seen occasionally from late March through September. Rufous hummingbirds are uncommon migrants that pass through in spring and fall, and Calliopes are rare spring migrants that pass through our coastal and lowland areas in April and May. A few other species are sometimes, but rarely, seen.

Though hummingbirds will visit flowers of both native and nonnative plants in our region, it is good to provide them with the nectar-rich native plants with which they have evolved. Hummingbirds are partial to red flowers, probably because many insects, such as bees, cannot see red and do not visit red flowers, which leaves more nectar in red flowers for hummingbirds. Some red flowered natives that hummingbirds love are fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) with its showy red trumpet-shaped blooms in summer and fall, and hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea).

Drought tolerant hummingbird sage in bloom.

Bright green puckered and wrinkled leaves of hummingbird sage are highly aromatic when crushed or touched.

At the October plant sale of the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, I bought several hummingbird sages for planting in a dry shady part of my garden, an area overhung with my neighbor’s tall bottlebrush trees that also attract hummingbirds (and orioles!) when they bloom. This showy sage is native to the low elevations of the coastal ranges of California from Sonoma County to San Diego County. Hummingbird sage is a low-growing evergreen perennial that spreads by rhizomes and is easy to grow in dry shaded or partly shaded areas; under oaks is a great place to plant them. Its bright green puckered and wrinkled leaves are highly aromatic when crushed or touched. Whorls of red flowers bloom March through May. Drought tolerant after the first year, it will stay green if watered once or twice a month in the summer. Several cultivars of this sage, including 'Powerline Pink', 'Sunrise', and 'Topanga', can be found at nurseries.

Hummingbirds also visit chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) and other native currants (Ribes spp.), other sages (Salvia spp.), and the hanging urn-shaped flowers of manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.), as well as penstemons (Penstemon spp.), live-forevers (Dudleya spp.) and many other native plant species. These are just of few of the species that are easy to maintain in a garden and that will draw in hummingbirds for your enjoyment.

Bobbie Stephenson is a local botanist and the current president and newsletter editor of the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

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