Phlox Drummondii: An Annual That Attracts Familiar and Unusual Hummingbirds

by DerdriuMarriner

Native to central and eastern Texas, annual phlox (Phlox Drummondii) is welcomed for its beautifully colored flowers, which cast nectary spells upon hummingbirds.

Phlox drummondii is commonly known as annual phlox or Drummond's phlox.

A New World native, annual phlox originates east of the Pecos River in central and eastern Texas.

Since its discovery 1833-1834, annual phlox has gained worldwide appreciation for the loveliness of its brightly colored flowers and for its attractiveness to hummingbirds.

Green Violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus) and rufous (Selasphorus rufous) number among the hummingbirds, unusual and familiar, respectively, which appreciate annual phlox.

Phlox drummondii

vicinity of Archer Historical Society Museum, north central Florida
vicinity of Archer Historical Society Museum, north central Florida


Hummingbirds (family Trochilidae) are attracted to clusters of brightly colored flowers, specifically orange, orange-red, pink, and red. Another attractor is a tubular blossom, a long, narrow shape which perfectly suits hummingbirds' long bills and tongues for extracting nectar. Another important feature is widespread distribution of flowers for easy accessibility and availability. All of these irresistible criteria are found in the floriferous Phlox drummondii. Moreover, Phlox drummondii blends well in borders and beds with its popular companion plants, petunias (genus Petunia) and scarlet sage (Salvia splendens), both of which likewise are favored by hummingbirds.

Phlox drummondii is commonly known as annual phlox or Drummond's phlox.

The genus Phlox (Greek: φλόξ, phlox, "flame") comprises 67 species of annuals and perennials. The first recognition of the existence of an annual species within the genus Phlox occurred in 1835 with the botanical description of Phlox drummondii.


Pecos River near Rio Grande: eastward lies Phlox drummondii's vast native habitat

south of Pecos River High Bridge: confluence of Pecos and Rio Grande, with hills of Coahuila state, Mexico, on horizon.
south of Pecos River High Bridge: confluence of Pecos and Rio Grande, with hills of Coahuila state, Mexico, on horizon.


Native to the United States, annual phlox is a New World plant whose discovery was less than three centuries ago. Specifically, all Phlox annuals trace their nativity to the massive area of the state of Texas east of the Pecos River, which flows southeasterly from the southeastern corner of New Mexico into the extreme western sector of Texas and joins the Rio Grande near the west central border city of Del Rio.


Native distribution of Phlox drummondii in the state of Texas

Only native and naturalized populations are mapped.
Only native and naturalized populations are mapped.




From its Texas stronghold Phlox drummondii has spread extensively throughout the southeastern United States.


Elsewhere in North America, Phlox drummondii was introduced successfully into Canada's western maritime province of New Brunswick and populous east central province of Ontario.


Canada and U.S. Native/Introduced Range for Phlox drummondii

PHDR Phlox drummondii Hook. annual phlox
PHDR Phlox drummondii Hook. annual phlox


Typical of its genus, annual phlox may be grown in a variety of environments, from prairie to woodland to alpine tundra (Russian тундра from Kildin Sami: tū̄ndra, "of the treeless plain").

Although Phlox drummondii favors acidic to neutral soil that is sandy and fertile, it accepts a variety of well-drained soils.

Also Phlox drummondii congenially flourishes in a range of light conditions, from dappled shade to full sun.

Phlox drummondii grows in a variety of climates. The delicate but hardy plant is capable of surviving light freezes of temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit (below 0° Celsius).


Phlox drummondii:

(1) stamens in corolla, (2) ovary in its cuplike disk, (3) pistil in calyx, (4) extremely magnified view of one of hairs "that so thickly clothe the calyx"; minuscule elevated points thickly stud each hair's surface, "a circumstance by no means common"
illustration by  Sarah Ann Drake (July 24, 1803 – July 9, 1857)
illustration by Sarah Ann Drake (July 24, 1803 – July 9, 1857)

Externals: What Phlox drummondii looks like


Annual phlox may reach a height of 20 inches (50.8 centimeters), although usually it ranges between 6 to 12 inches (about 15 to 30 centimeters) in height.

Its soft leaves are slightly sticky. Fine hairs blanket stems and leaves as well as appearing on the flowers.

Pinching off older stems encourages new branching. Similarly, deadheading (removing old or faded flowers) elicits a longer blooming season until frost.

Typical of its family, Polemoniaceae, Phlox drummondii flowers have five sepals and five brightly colored petals. Characteristically, annual phlox's petals are united to form a tubular corolla (Latin: corolla, diminutive of corona, "crown"), the collective botanical term for all of the petals. Thus, the slender tube of the corolla at the base flares out into a wide, flat limb (the flat, spreading part or border of the petals).

Sepals are special leaves that lie beneath the corolla. Also typical of its family, Phlox drummondii has a calyx (Greek: κύλιξ, kylix, "drinking cup"), i.e., all the sepals collectively, that is a fused tube. The calyx tube is about one-third of the length of the corolla tube.

The flower's eye (center of the corolla around the tube or throat) often offers a dark or light contrast with the overall floral color that may be striking or subtle. Phlox  drummondii flowers exhibit a rainbow of colors, ranging from:

". . . pale yellow and white through pink, lilac, rose, blue, purple, red to almost black, both in solid colors and in various combinations of eyed patterns . . . . There are many varieties in which the . . . 'eye' . . . is only a little deeper in shade than the rest of the corolla . . . . other sorts . . . have the center . . . markedly different from the rest of the corolla, or that are chiefly of one color striated with another. There are even tri-colored sorts having a colored flower with a white eye with spots of a different color included within the eye. . . ." (James P. Kelly, "Cultivated varieties of Phlox drummondii," pp. 179-180)



Phlox drummondii is named in honor of Scottish naturalist Thomas Drummond (ca. 1790 - 1835), who collected 750 plant species and 150 bird specimens during a twenty-one month botanical survey of the area between the barrier island of Galveston Island along the central east Texas coast and the Edwards Plateau in west central Texas from March 1833 to December 1834. Drummond experienced physical hardships during his survey, including contracting cholera and suffering from diarrhea.

The inveterate botanizer planned a brief visit to Cuba, sailing there on February 9, 1835, from Apalachicola in northwestern Florida, with the expectation of thence journeying to Key West, surveying Florida, and bringing his wife Isobel Mungo Drummond (b. ca. 1795) and children, Ann (b. ca. 1821) and Isabella (b. ca. 1824) over from Glamis, Scotland to settle on land in Texas. Unfortunately, news came from the Consul in Havana, Cuba in March 1835 that Drummond had passed away suddenly from an unspecified illness.


William Jackson Hooker in 1834, two years before his knighthood, at age 50, in the Royal Guelphic Order.

1834 portrait
1834 portrait


Seeds of this unspecified Phlox species were sent to Sir William Jackson Hooker (July 6, 1785 - August 12, 1865), who was at the time Regius ("Royal") Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow and later, in 1841, was appointed as the first official Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Plants were first grown in England from Drummond's seeds by Alexander Campbell (c. 1795 - 1877), Curator since 1831 of the Manchester Botanical and Horticultural Gardens in Old Trafford.

Dr. Hooker published the first botanical description of Drummond's plant, naming it in the collector's honor and extolling

". . . the present very handsome species of Phlox. The seeds sent over, in the early part of the year 1835, soon vegetated, the plants blossomed most copiously, and with equal profusion and brilliancy of colour, whether in the greenhouse or in the open border; and it bids fair to be a great ornament to the gardens of our country." (Curtis's Botanical Magazine, Volume 62 [new series volume 9], plate 3441, October 1, 1835)

Thus, this "charmingly variable" species, named by a renowned botanist for a heroic pioneer in botanical collecting, was introduced into English gardens. (W. Botting Hemsley, p. xxxvi)

Phlox drummondii seeds were subsequently dispersed from England for sprouting near and afar. Particularly in Germany varieties were cultivated extensively. In fact, the seed catalog published in 1914 by Haage and Schmidt Nursery in Erfurt, Germany, listed 173 varieties of Phlox drummondii.

Back in its native country across the Atlantic, Phlox drummondii was distributed to growers by Albany, New York-based Buel and Wilson Nursery, having obtained their seeds from London in 1836. Two years later in 1838 Boston-based Hovey's Magazine of Horticulture noted the availability of six varieties of Phlox drummondii through American growers.

On the other side of the world, Thomas' brother James Drummond (1786/1787 - March 26, 1863), who had moved to western Australia in 1829 as one of the early settlers of the Swan River Colony, noted in 1842 --- only seven years after its discovery --- that Phlox drummondii were thriving in Augusta, on Australia's southwest coast, in gardens planted by Georgiana Molloy (May 23, 1805 - April 8, 1843), an early settler who is regarded as one of Australia's first botanical collectors.


Globetrotter: Introduction of Phlox drummondii, within 7 years of the plant's discovery, into the Land Down Under

Thomas Drummond's brother James noted in 1842 that Annual Phlox were flourishing in Georgiana Molloy's gardens in Augusta, southwestern coast, Western Australia
c.1829 miniature painted prior to Georgiana's departure from England as settler in Swan River Colony, Western Australia
c.1829 miniature painted prior to Georgiana's departure from England as settler in Swan River Colony, Western Australia

Drummond's phlox: alluring to familiar and unusual hummingbirds


With its brightly colored flowers, Drummond's phlox attracts the attention of such nectar lovers as hummingbirds, which appreciate the expansion of the showy-flowered annual beyond its native range. Among devoted consumers of Phlox drummondii's nectar are Rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus), a familiarly abundant native of northwestern North America, and Green Violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus), an unusual visitor from its native range of southern Mexico to western Bolivia.


rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufous) are attracted to Phlox drummondii

Trout Lake, Klickitat County, southwestern Washington
Trout Lake, Klickitat County, southwestern Washington

Selasphorus rufus: a familiar hummer


Known commonly as Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus is a northwestern North American hummingbird, with a native summer range from southern Alaska southward through eastern Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta and into the northwestern United States.

Rufous hummingbirds are inveterate fliers, with autumn stopovers in the Great Lakes region and in New England. Their southern and eastern winter migration stretches as far south as the state of Guerrero (Estado Libre y Soberano de Guerrero) in southwestern Mexico and as far southeast as Florida and the Gulf Coast as well as the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands in the western North Atlantic Ocean.

Nest sites favor woodlands in which conifers (Latin: conus, “cone” + ferre, “to bear”) dominate and with wildflowers in nearby openings.

Migration habitats vary greatly and include gardens and orchards. Rufous hummingbirds also frequent sugar-water feeders.

Considered small in size, Rufous hummingbirds range in length from 2.8 to 3.5 inches (7 to 9 centimeters).

Selasphorus rufus receives its name from its predominant color of rufous, a reddish-brown or rust coloring. Throats swathed in golden red distinguish males. Females often display glittering green backs, and their throats are spotted in green.

In addition to Phlox drummondii, Rufous hummingbirds especially favor red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). Their diet also features insects. In their foraging Rufous hummingbirds display aggressive feistiness in their fearless willingness to chase much larger hummingbird species from nectar sources, including feeders.


Green Violet-Ear Hummingbird (Colibri thalassinus), usually dwells in Mexico, Central America, northern South America:

enjoys Phlox drummondii on visits north, regularly to Padre Island, southern Texas, or rarely to Wisconsin.
5249 feet (1600 meters) above sea level:  Hotel Finca Lérida, Boquete, Chiriquí province, western coastal Panama
5249 feet (1600 meters) above sea level: Hotel Finca Lérida, Boquete, Chiriquí province, western coastal Panama

Colibri thalassinus: an unusual hummingbird


Known commonly as Green Violet-ear or Green Violetear, Colibri thalassinus is native to forested highlands of southern Mexico southward into Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and western Panama and into northwestern South America (western Venezuela, western Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and western Bolivia).

Clocked in a chase at 90 miles per hour (140 kilometers/hour), Colibri thalassinus is credited with the greatest recorded flying speed for a hummingbird.

A medium-sized hummingbird, Green Violet-ear has an average length of 3.8 to 4.7 inches (9.7 to 12 centimeters).

Its bill, which tends toward black, averages close to an inch (0.71 to 0.98 inches; 1.8 to 2.5 centimeters) in length. Characteristically its bill, mostly straight, curves slightly downward at the tip.

Its tail, which measures 1.4 to 1.7 inches (3.5 to 4.3 centimeters), exhibits a colorful bands of metallic blue-green, bronze, and black.

Green Violet-ear has a shimmering green body. Violet ear patches glitter on the sides of its neck.

Despite their wide native geographic range, Colibri thalassinus has a penchant for wandering and has been known to stray far in North America, from regular visits in Texas to as far north as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada. In their peregrinations in the United States and Canada, Green Violet-ears frequent bird feeders in urban and suburban habitats.

Green Violet-ear's diet consists primarily of insects and nectar, of which annual phlox is a favorite.


pleasing pastel perfection of Drummond's phlox

Richland, west central Florida
Richland, west central Florida

Phlox drummondii today: Widely available for nectar-sipping hummingbirds


For untold eons Phlox drummondii lived as a lively wildflower, quietly adorning its native Texas landscapes. Since its fairly recent, official discovery, the exuberantly flowering species has continuously charmed its horticultural recipients and graced public and private vistas, with the added attraction of its floral siren call to all nectar-sipping hummingbirds, including familiar hummers such as rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufous) and unusual buzzers such as Green Violet-Ear (Colibri thalassinus). As a result it has a worldwide following with appreciation for its apparently endless reincarnations, as new, newer, and newest varieties announce spring in a magical parade of subtle and showy expanses of the color spectrum.


pure beauty of white Phlox drummondii
pure beauty of white Phlox drummondii



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database for their species distribution maps.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

Phlox Drummondii: comfortably naturalized in Florida

Along US Highway 98, about 10 miles southeast of Dade City, Pasco County, west central Florida
Along US Highway 98, about 10 miles southeast of Dade City, Pasco County, west central Florida

Sources Consulted


BirdLife International 2012. Colibri thalassinus. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. <>. 

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BirdLife International 2012. Selasphorus rufus. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. <>.

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Christman, Steve. “Phlox drummondii.” Floridata > Plant Profile List. Updated 5/11/05. Jack Scheper. Web.

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Coats, Alice M. The Plant Hunters: Being a History of the Horticultural Pioneers, their Quests and their Discoveries, from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

Dole, Claire Hagen. "Phlox: A Butterfly and Moth Magnet." Butterfly Gardeners' Quarterly: A Newsletter for Gardeners and Butterfly Enthuasiasts. Summer 2000. Last updated December 12, 2000.

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"Entrance to the Botanic Garden, Manchester." The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Vol. XIX, No. 536 (Saturday, March 23, 1832): 129-130.

"Garden Flora: Plate 798. Annual Phloxes (With a Coloured Plate of Phlox Drummondi Vars.)." The Garden: An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in All Its Branches. Volume XXXIX (March 28, 1891): 292-293.

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“Green Violetear Colibri thalassinus.” South Dakota Birds and Birding > Species. Terry L. Sohl. Web.

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Hemsley, W. Botting. "The History of the Botanical Magazine 1787-1904." Pages pp. v-lxiii. In:  W. Botting Hemsley, A New and Complete Index to Curtis's Botanical Magazine from its Commencement in 1787 to the End of 1904, Including the First, Second, and Third Series; To Which Is Prefixed a History of the Magazine. Lovell Reeve & Co., 1906.

Hooker, William Joseph (Sir). "Phlox Drummondii. Mr. Drummond's Phlox." Botanical Magazine, Volume 62 [new series volume 9] (October 1, 1835):  plate 3441.

"Hummingbird gardening tips for your region." BirdWatcher's > Learn > Hummingbirds. Bird Watcher's Digest. Web.

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Kelly, James P. “Astylis Phlox: The relation of this variation of Phlox Drmmondii to the large eyed flower.” Journal of Heredity, Vol. 13, Issue 8 (August 1922): 339-342.

Kelly, J.P. "Cultivated varieties of Phlox Drummondii." Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, Vol. 16, No. 189 (September 1915): 179-191.

Kelly, James P. "The 'Eye' of Phlox." Journal of Heredity, Vol. 25, Issue 5 (May 1934): 183-186.

Kelly, James P. “Fasciation in Phlox Drummondii: The origin and nature of fasciation in Phlox.” Journal of Heredity, Vol. 18, Issue 7  (July 1927): 323-327.

Kelly, James P. "A Genetical Study of Flower Form and Flower Color in Phlox Drummondii." Genetics, Vol. 5 (March 1920): 189-248.

Kelly, James P. “Hoodedness in Phlox.” Journal of Heredity, Vol. 36, Issue 1 (January 1945): 25-28.

Kelly, James P. Inheritance in Phlox drummondii. M.A. Thesis. New York: Columbia University, 1916.

Mills, Colin. "Phlox drummondii Hook." Hortus Camdenensis > Plants in the Hortus > Herbaceous Plants > Annuals and Biennials. February 6, 2009. Last Updated July 29, 2010. Colin Mills. Web.

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Oliver, F.W., ed. Makers of British Botany: A Collection of Biographies by Living Botanists. Cambridge, University Press, 1913.

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"On bedding plants by a nobleman's flower near London." The Floricultural Cabinet and Florist's Magazine, Vol. 18 (June 1850): 130-133.

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Ortho's All About Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Books, 2001.

"Phlox Drummondii. Hook. Var. Plures (Phlox de Drummond." Annales de la Societe Royale d'Agriculture et de Botanique de Gand, Journal d'Horticulture, Volume 4 (1848): 337-338.

  • Available via HathiTrust at:

"Phlox Drummondii. (Mr. Drummond's Lichnidea)." Paxton's Magazine of Botany, and Register of Flowering Plants. Volume the Second: 221. London: Orr and Smith, MDCCCXXXVI (1836).

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

"Phlox Drummondii. Mr. Drummond's Phlox." Curtis's Botanical Magazine; Or, Flower Garden Displayed: In which the most Ornamental Foreign Plants cultivated in the Open Ground, the Green-House, and the Stove, are accurately represented and coloured. The Descriptions by William Jackson Hooker. Vol. IX New Series (or Volume LXII of the whole Work). London: Edward Couchman, 1835.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at:

"Phlox Drummondii. Mr. Drummond's Phlox." Edwards's Botanical Register: Or, Ornamental Flower Garden and Shrubbery: Consisting of Coloured Figures of Plants and Shrubs, Cultivated in British Gardens; Accompanied by Their History, Best Method of Treatment in Cultivation, Propagation, &tc. Continued by John Lindley. Volume X New Series (Or Vol. XXIII, of the Entire Work). London: James Ridgway and Sons, M.DCCC.XXXVII (1837).

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"Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus." South Dakota Birds and Birding > Species. Terry L. Sohl. Web.

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Spaulding, Perley (Dr.). "A Biographical History of Botany at St. Louis, Missouri. II." The Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXXIV (January 1909): 48-57.

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Whitehouse, Eula. “Annual Phlox Species.” American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 34, No. 2 (September 1945): 388-401.


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 05/05/2015

Mira, In addition to being a beautiful little wildflower, phlox are irresistible to hummingbirds, so a phlox garden is a wildlife hub.
The joyous abundance of phlox is one of nature's beautiful gifts: from spring to summer to autumn, somewhere phlox flowers are open and prettifying the landscape with their floral palette.

Mira on 04/29/2015

And yes, the hummingbirds are beautiful too!

Mira on 04/29/2015

I didn't know that phlox came in so many different varieties. It's a beautiful little wildflower.
P.S. I hope to make a trip to the Botanical Gardens here soon. :)

DerdriuMarriner on 11/13/2013

Dustytoes, Each flower has its particular allure, and phlox is such a recognizable, enchanting genus which easily and exuberantly prettifies every landscape.
How wonderful to be greeted with creeping phlox each year in your garden! Phlox demands so little and gives so much in return.
Your appreciation of the images for this article is much appreciated. Thank you!

DerdriuMarriner on 11/13/2013

Mira, Me, too, I love phlox! I'm glad that you appreciate the crayon portrait of Thomas Drummond. Thank you for visiting and commenting. Your compliments and appreciation are warmly encouraging.

dustytoes on 11/12/2013

I grow creeping phlox and the taller variety here in New Hampshire. It's so easy to grow and comes back each year. I love the pictures here - and the hummingbirds too!

Mira on 11/10/2013

I love phlox and enjoyed that crayon portrait of Drummond :) -- as well as various bits of info. You write so beautifully about plants. :)

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