What Kind of Flowers Attract Hummingbirds? (Top 12 Native Flowers)
Hummingbirds, found only in the Americas, are incredibly unique and important pollinators that are specially adapted to harvest the nectar from very particular flowers. Their beaks and tongues have, over approximately 22 million years, evolved to be long and thin while their bodies minimized greatly in size and their wings became highly specialized to allow them to beat incredibly fast while moving forward, backward, hovering, or even flying upside down.
In fact, hummingbirds are the only bird group capable of such incredible agility and maneuverability. The price they pay for all of this? They have incredibly fast metabolisms, and incredibly high energy needs as a result.
Their evolution has occurred in tandem with that of the flowers that they rely on, and is a classic and prime example of co-evolution. Co-evolution is defined as two or more species mutually affecting one another’s evolution, and typically benefitting each other in the process. In this case, the hummingbirds get a dependable source of rich nectar to feed their swift metabolisms that many other pollinators cannot access, while the flowers get a surefire pollinator to help continue their genetic line while minimizing cross-pollination with other flower species.
What Shape & Kind of Flowers Do Hummingbirds Like?
To elaborate further, the long, thin bills of hummingbirds have enabled them to be exceptionally good at pollinating long, tubular flowers or flowers that are somewhat cup-shaped. They are able to collect nectar from other flower types as well, but mostly rely on tubular flowers that are also quite vividly colored, as these tend to hold the most (and richest) nectar.
Tubular and cup-shaped flowers have an advantage in that they are able to protectively store a great deal more rich nectar and vital pollen than other flower types, as the fused petals of these long flowers protect the nectar and pollen so that more can be generated. They have a disadvantage, though, in that only hummingbirds and other highly specialized pollinators can access their pollen.
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Why Choose Native Plants for Hummingbirds?
Here, we will list some of the primary garden flowers that hummingbirds are attracted to, and where these flowers are native. It’s vital to try to only grow plants native to your area, as invasive plant introduction to new areas by humans is one of the leading contributors to the loss of native biodiversity, wildlife habitat degradation, and damage to our vital natural resources.
In fact, often within just a few years of being colonized by invasive species, habitats of all kinds are at great risk of being choked out and disappearing altogether. This spells trouble for fish, mammals, herpetofauna, insects, and birds alike – including sensitive and critically important hummingbirds. Your garden can truly become a safe haven for sensitive species like hummingbirds. All it takes is a few native flowers to help out!
12 Best Flowers That Attract Hummingbirds
1) Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa or M. didyma)
Beebalm, also commonly known as wild bergamot, belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae) and has a fragrant scent reminiscent of both lemons and mint. Both of these species possess clusters of small, tubular, two-lipped flowers that are absolutely perfect for the long beaks and tongues of hummingbirds, with vibrant colors that further help to draw them in. Bees, as the common name implies, also readily visit beebalms.
Both M. fistulosa (wild bergamot), which is typically purple in color, and M. didyma (scarlet beebalm), which is typically scarlet or pink, can be found in moist areas such as damp woods, along riverbanks, lakes, and the like, wet meadows, marshes, and even in ditches. M. fistulosa is a bit more tolerant of dry conditions than M. didyma, but still prefers moist but well-draining soil. For either species, zones 4 through 9 work best with access to partial to full sun.
M. fistulosa has a longer bloom period of May through September, while M. didyma typically blooms from July through August or September, if conditions are still mild with enough moisture. Both species can have prolonged bloom periods of flowers are dead-headed as needed. Be aware that beebalms have rhizomatous roots and will spread, so you will likely need to dig them up and thin them out every couple of years. Do be aware also that they can grow over 6 feet tall, so it’s best to plant them where they won’t block sun from (or your view of) smaller plants.
2) Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia or D. formosa)
Most bleeding heart varieties sold in nurseries are actually Asian bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), which is of course invasive in the US and Canada. Here, we’re focusing on fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) and Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), both of which are native to different regions of North America. They are so named for the somewhat heart-shaped appearance of their flowers, which are difficult for some pollinators to get to…but not for the resourceful and specially adapted hummingbird!
Both species can have flowers that range in color from pink to purple to red, though purple tends to be the most common. Additionally, both species prefer damp, humousy soils and are found naturally in wooded areas, making them ideal for gardens that have more shade as they don’t tolerate too much sunlight or heat very well. Zones 3 through 9 work best for both species.
These will not tolerate drought, so be sure to keep their soil moist or plant them close to a water source, such as a pond, where the ground naturally stays damp (but not saturated). Bleeding hearts are not aggressive spreaders, and shouldn’t need to be thinned out but are easily dug up if thinning or transplanting is needed. Their maximum height is typically less than two feet; about one foot is average. Do note that all parts of bleeding heart are toxic to humans and pets if ingested!
3) Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
One of our favorite plants, cardinal flower is a favorite of many pollinators, too! With its bright scarlet petals, tubular flower shape, and sweet nectar, cardinal flower is highly favored by hummingbirds, and is also frequently visited and pollinated by butterflies and moths (such as the hawk moth) with longer proboscises that are able to access to nectar. This makes it ideal if you’re trying to establish a native pollinator garden.
As a marginal plant that can grow in either damp soil or a couple of inches of water, cardinal flower is decent at filtering out excess nutrients and pollutants. In fact, many wetland remediation projects use cardinal flower as a sort of triple whammy – to attract native pollinators, make the area visually appealing, and to help filter the water and soil.
It takes two years for cardinal flower to fully establish; the first year will just be a rosette of leaves on the ground, and the next year a stalk will emerge and flowers will bloom from May through October. It does best in hardiness zones 2 through 9 with ample moisture, can grow up to four feet tall, and will do well whether it’s in full sun, partial sun, or full shade.
4) Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea)
Also known as the firecracker plant, cigar plant is so named for its resemblance to a lit cigar or firecracker when flowering. Its tubular, orange-red flowers have white-grey tips that somewhat resemble the ash that can be found at the end of a cigar. However, it’s not to be confused with another plant found in the same region called firecracker plant, Russelia equisetiformis that looks very similar but lacks white-grey flower tips.
Cigar plant is so loved by hummingbirds that gardeners have reported not only multiple hummingbirds visiting a single plant at a time, but sometimes several species of hummingbirds. This is rather astounding, as hummingbirds, particularly the males, tend to be territory and do not prefer to gather together.
This is a warm-weather, tropical plant, preferring hardiness zones 9 through 12 where there is low to no risk of frost. If frosted, they’ll die down to the roots but can resprout once temperatures are suitable again. They are somewhat tolerant of drought, but soil should be kept moist (though not saturated, as they are prone to root rot). Some shade is alright, but cigar plants prefer full sun and, ideally, humidity.
5) Columbine (Aquilegia species)
Though there are many species of columbine native to North America (and they can readily hybridize with one another), perhaps the two most well-known are red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), found in eastern N.A., and western columbine (Aquilegia formosa).
Regardless of the species, columbines are incredibly stunning and unique flowers, possessing downturned flowers with multiple large tubes, and “spurs” on the backs of the flowers. They come in a wide variety of colors, such as blue, purple, red, yellow, orange, white, pink, and any combination thereof. It’s no wonder hummingbirds love them!
Though growing conditions will differ somewhat depending on the species (be sure to get the Latin name of the species that you have and do your own research on that particular one!), columbines are not difficult to grow. Their great species variety makes them adept as surviving all manner of environments, from saturated wetlands to damp, rocky mountains to the sandy, moist beaches of the Midwestern US. They can tolerate drought, but overall prefer moist conditions and can grow well in either full sun or full shade.
6) Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
A favorite of many gardeners, it’s good to know that this tall, pretty, fragrant plant is actually native throughout the US and eastern Canada! Delicate purple, pink, or white flowers have petals that can spread up to an inch in diameter but come together at the base to form a long tube before connecting to the plant’s stem, making it ideal for hummingbirds of all kinds.
In nature, this plant can be found growing in moist areas with rich soils, such as open lowland woods, thickets, near (but not in) wetlands, along riverbanks and freshwater shorelines, and occasionally in ditches. As such, be sure to plant garden phlox either in naturally moist soils, or water regularly (daily during hot weather) to ensure soil stays moist enough. Drought will cause flowers to die and drop off, and too much direct sun will burn the leaves so partial shade is best.
Hardiness zones 4 through 8 work best for this plant, which will return without much maintenance (beyond watering) year after year. Do be aware that garden phlox grows into a rather tall plant, with stalks reaching up to five feet in height. In less rich soils, height may be limited to two or three feet. Be aware that garden phlox spreads somewhat quickly, and will likely need to be dug up and thinned every two to three years.
7) Hummingbird Vine (Campsis radicans)
Also commonly known as trumpet vine, trumpet creeper, or foxglove vine, this unique plant possesses a sturdy, woody vine with orange-red trumpet-shaped flowers that can be up to four inches long. Such a long tube enables these flowers to hold a great deal of nectar, which hummingbirds hone in on readily (hence its common name). It’s also an important host plant for the trumpet vine sphinx moth (not to be confused with the similar-looking but very destructive & invasive gypsy moth, which has very furry antennae).
Hummingbird vine grows best in well-draining soils like sandy-loam or limestone soils, and can tolerate moist soil as well as periods of drought, but it will not tolerate being saturated. Clay, or other poorly draining soils, will help to control growth. Hardiness zones 4 through 9 work best, with access to full sunlight. Flowering occurs from June through September.
It’s quite a hardy plant, able to put out aerial roots that grab whatever is within reach to help itself grow upward and outward. In fact, this plant can grow over 40 feet tall, and has been known to destroy brick buildings and literally choke out trees that it winds around. Its tough nature has earned it the name “hell vine” in some areas. To control it, plant it near concrete that will limit its spread with an open area that allows you to mow over new growth, as mowing new ground growth is an effective method of controlling this plant while not stimulating further growth. Trait it where you would like it to go using sturdy trellises and concrete, and trim vertical growth as needed.
8) Lupine (Lupinus species)
No matter the species, lupines are incredibly attractive plants belonging to the legume family, Fabaceae. As you may already know, this family is also home to peas! In fact, lupines produce pea-like pods in the late summer that dry up and drop seeds in the autumn. These seeds are readily forage on by a variety of mammals and birds, while the flowers attract everything from butterflies and moths to hummingbirds and bees.
Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) is found throughout North America east of the Mississippi River, while large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) is found west of the Mississippi. Other species are also found, but these are the primary ones. Both are native on their respective opposite sides of the river.
Unlike many of the other species on this list, wild lupine prefers the sandy soils characteristic of oak-pine barrens and savannas, serving as the only host plant for the critically endangered Karner blue butterfly. This lupine will not tolerate too much moisture, but does fantastically in dry soils with ample sun. Large-leaved lupine, however, is a facultative plant, meaning that it’s just as likely to grow in dry areas as in wetlands, but it does overall prefer moisture. It’s even tolerant of some salt, as it can be found growing near the ocean throughout the Pacific Northwest. Both of these species are well-suited to zones 3 through 7.
9) Obedient Plant/Common Snapdragons (Physostegia virginiana/Antirrhinum majus)
Though belonging to different genera, obedient plant and common snapdragons look and function quite similarly, and both belong to the mint family. Members of the mint family have easily-distinguished square stems, though not all of them have a characteristic minty smell.
As they look so similar but obedient plants (there are 12 species) are native to the New World, they are also commonly called “false dragonheads.” Both false dragonheads and snapdragons have three-lobed flowers, with one large lower lobe that acts as a bright, welcoming landing strip for pollinators. This flower structure makes it a very popular plant among bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and hummingbirds alike. Unlike many other popular garden flowers, it blooms from late summer into autumn, making it extra valuable to pollinators as it provides them with ample energy as they prepare for winter.
If you’re looking to attract hummingbirds, you’ll want to seek out obedient plant is both they and hummingbirds are native only to North America. While not aggressive, snapdragons are technically invasive here. If you’re insistent on having snapdragons (though obedient plant looks and functions identically), frost and winter will be a benefit is they will kill of snapdragons and stop them from spreading. Both snapdragons and obedient plants prefer full to partial sunlight with ample moisture; neither do well with drought or too much heat. As an added bonus, obedient plants are perennial while snapdragons are annuals.
10) Petunias (Petunia species)
Although technically only native to South America, petunias are very popular garden plants and most are not considered to be invasive (with the exception of the aggressive Mexican petunia – do avoid this one if you can).
The broad, flaring petals of petunia that fuse at the base to form a large tube are ideal for a variety of species of hummingbirds, as well as other pollinators large and small. Most varieties of petunias are man-made hybrids, and come in a huge array of colors. In general, petunias do best in sunny locations, and can be grown just as well in pots and containers as they do in open soil. Speaking of which, well-draining soil works best that is watered when the top two inches becomes dry.
Most petunias grow best in hardiness zones 9 through 11, but they’ll grow just fine during the summertime in lower zones, too. Note that they will just be annuals in regions that experience winter, though, as these South American natives are not at all tolerant of frost.
11) Sage (Salvia species)
You may be most familiar with sage as an herbal treatment, popular aromatherapy scent (surprise, it also belongs to the mint family!), or for its popularity in seasoning many dishes. However, sages, particularly the couple dozen species that have been cultivated for gardening, also produce beautiful flowers and fragrant leaves that make a wonderful addition to gardens.
Sages produce very striking, sometimes downright odd-looking flowers that can be white, purple, red, pink, or even black. Many species also possess a lipped structure similar to those found on obedient plant mentioned above, which again acts as a nice, easy landing strip for insects and a bright, beckoning flag for larger pollinators like hummingbirds. As an added bonus, many salvias have a long bloom period, often blooming from early spring to late autumn; this makes them exceptionally important as an early and late food source for hummingbirds when other nectar sources are not available.
No matter the species, sages do not do well in wet, or even just moist, conditions and prefer for the soil to dry out between watering. They also typically prefer full sun, but will tolerate some afternoon shade in particularly hot and dry conditions. Most species prefer hardiness zones 8 and above, but there are a few, such as the woodland sage (Salvia nemerosa), that are frost tolerant and can handle zones as low as 4.
12) Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Many gardeners are familiar with Impatiens walleriana, more commonly known as busy Lizzy. However, I. walleriana is native to eastern Africa and should not be grown in North America as it is incredibly invasive and crowds out native species. Its close relative jewelweed, otherwise known as spotted touch-me-not, is what you’re going to want if you’re looking to attract hummingbirds. Though its name may initially inspire some anxiety, don’t worry – “touch-me-not” is in reference to its autumn seed capsules, which burst when touched.
The flowers of jewelweed are vibrant orange, sometimes with yellow or red spots, that form more of a pouch shape than a tube, making them exceptional at holding nectar for hummingbirds. They don’t have a strong smell, making them ideal for those with allergies. Additionally, its gelatinous watery stems can be crushed and applied topically to itchy skin, as the aloe-like goo inside is a natural anti-inflammatory that helps ease hives, rashes from poison ivy, stinging nettle, and insect bites – we can’t speak for the first two, but we know from experience that it does indeed soothe the sting from nettle and mosquito bites!
Naturally found in damp woods and wetlands, jewelweed would grow best in partial to full shade marginally along a pond either in damp soil or very shallow water (though damp soil is best). They are extremely hardy, doing well in zones 2 through 11 and growing fast (but no worries, they’re easy to thin out if needed!).
They are one of only a handful of native species that are able to successfully outcompete garlic mustard, a horrendously damaging invasive species that releases toxic compounds into the soil to kill other plants and the mycorrhizal fungi that they depend upon to obtain nutrients from the soil. Jewelweed is able to develop a resistance to these compounds, and will outgrow garlic mustard over time.