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Most gardeners in the United States are familiar with the thrill of seeing a hummingbird among their flowers. Of all the pollinators, hummingbirds are probably the most unique and certainly the showiest, so everyone wants to know how they can attract more hummingbirds to their garden.
Therefore many gardeners may ask themselves just what common garden flowers are beloved by hummingbirds. For example, do hummingbirds like impatiens?
Hummingbirds like impatiens; while the flowers aren’t the ideal shape for them, the bright colors and sweet nectar produced by the blossoms are very attractive to hummingbirds. However, the common garden impatiens is becoming an invasive species in many countries, and it might be worth looking at its native relatives instead.
What kind of flowers do hummingbirds like?
Hummingbirds are nectarivores, which means they feed primarily upon nectar, the sugary liquid produced by many flowers. Their long, thin, curved bills and forked, brush-like tongues are made to probe into flowers and lick up as much nectar as possible. They prefer tubular or trumpet-shaped blossoms, as that structure is easiest for their bills and tongues.
Hummingbirds are attracted to bright colors, particularly deep reds. However, the colors pink, purple, orange, red, and yellow will also bring hummingbirds around to have a look. They have high energy needs and therefore need to drink a lot of nectar – the equivalent of their body weight in a day – and will look for long-lasting, abundant flowers that produce a lot of this energy-filled honey. All of this should be considered when choosing flowers hummingbirds will love.
Why are hummingbirds attracted to impatiens?
The garden flower you might know simply as “impatiens” (or “busy Lizzie”, if you’re British) is a species called Impatiens walleriana. Native to East Africa, impatiens are known for their colorful blossoms, easy propagation, and unusual manner of seed dispersal. All members of the impatiens family produce seed pods that burst when touched, dispersing the seeds over a wide area. As a result, they self-seed quite readily. Impatiens thrive in the shade, making them a great choice if you have a shaded garden but still want to attract hummingbirds.
If your garden is on the sunnier side, Impatiens hawkeri (or New Guinea impatiens) are much more tolerant of the sunlight than their African cousins. New Guinea impatiens will still grow happily in lightly shaded conditions but will tolerate up to half a day of sunshine.
Both species make an excellent ground cover and are resistant to most diseases. In warmer areas, they will self-sow and grow as a perennial, but they are vulnerable to frost, so if you live in a colder climate you should either move them inside or be content with them as an annual. Impatiens will also grow happily in hanging pots, putting them at a good height for hummingbirds. They also flourish in pots, and putting impatiens in pots with taller flowers can be very attractive to hummingbirds.
All these factors make them a popular choice for gardeners.
Walleriana and hawkeri are not the best shapes for hummingbirds, as their blossoms are flat and open rather than tubular. However, they make up for it in the brightness of their colors, nectar production, and profuse blossoms. Impatiens come in varying shades of red, lavender, orange, lilac, white, pink, or multi-colored. Their open petal structure allows for easy access to their sweet nectar, so hummingbirds still are attracted to and happily feed on them despite their less than ideal shape.
What are the best impatiens for hummingbirds?
Impatiens walleriana is one of the most common garden flowers in the world, but the same reasons that make it so popular also mean that it can escape gardens easily. Currently, impatiens are listed as invasive species in over a dozen countries, including several states.
The good news is that many members of the impatiens family are not Impatiens walleriana. Impatiens capensis, commonly known as orange jewelweed, spotted jewelweed, or orange balsam, is a wildflower native to the north and eastern states. It is known for its beautiful orange and red conical flowers.
Its close relative, Impatiens pallida, or yellow jewelweed, is also native to the States and Canada but is less attractive to hummingbirds due to its pale yellow coloration.
There are other, lesser-known species of impatiens that are a more suitable shape for hummingbirds to feed on. Impatiens balsamina (or rose balsam), Impatiens arguta (or toothed busy-Lizzie), Impatiens stenantha, and Impatiens fischeri are all impatiens species that are gaining more popularity as garden plants. These impatiens have beautiful, tube-shaped flowers that are often compared to orchids in their intricate structure and graceful shape.
All of these plants are also commonly known as “touch-me-nots” because of their delightfully unique method of seed distribution. Scientifically known as “explosive dehiscence” or “ballistochory”, the mature seed pods of these plants will explode when touched, flinging the seeds over a wide area.
If you live in a State where Impatiens capensis is native, these native varieties of impatiens might just be the most ecological choice for your garden. Otherwise, one of the more exotic species might add just the glamourous and unusual look that your garden needs.
Is it worth growing impatiens for hummingbirds?
It might be. They make for a beautiful and easy-to-grow garden flower and are particularly suitable as ground cover. And hummingbirds do love them. But they have also proved very invasive and damaging to various ecosystems. This can particularly be a danger in warmer climates, where impatiens can grow as a perennial. If you live in such an area and want to attract hummingbirds, a native relative to the common Impatiens walleriana might be a better option to bring them flocking. Otherwise, the hardy exotic impatiens not only have bright flowers but blossoms that are perfectly shaped for hummingbird bills. Either way, you can’t go wrong with planting impatiens for hummingbirds.