The Power of White: Three White Flowered Plants Alluring to Hummingbirds

by DerdriuMarriner

Hummingbirds find enjoyment in the stunning whiteness of appropriately shaped flowers.

It is a popular misconception that hummingbirds only patronize red-flowered plants.

Although red oftentimes serves as a worthwhile signal of nectar success, hummingbirds are not monochromatic in their searches for nectar sources.
• Floral shapes have greater importance than floral coloration for hummingbirds.
• Hummingbirds are looking for nectar which is accessible via their bills.

Among colors considered by hummingbirds in their nectar searches white promises success.

Among many white-flowered nectar sources, two shrubs and a perennial are standouts:

• Correa alba x Correa backhouseana 'Ivory Bells';

• Hawaiian white hibiscus (Hibiscus arnottianus A. Gray);

• Foxglove beard-tongue or talus slope penstemon (Penstemon digitalis).

starry whiteness of white Correa (Correa alba), credited as one of parents of Correa 'Ivory Bells'

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Tasmania, Australia
Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Tasmania, Australia

 

Correa 'Ivory Bells' is a New World hybrid with an Oceanic lineage. San Francisco, California, is credited as the birthplace of 'Ivory Bells.' Known as White Australian Fuchsia, 'Ivory Bells' is believed to represent a cross of White Correa (Correa alba), endemic to coastal southern Australia, with Coast Correa (Correa backhouseana), also called Velvet Correa, endemic to southern Australia, especially the island state of Tasmania.

The Royal Horticultural Society has honored both parents of 'Ivory Bells' with Awards of Garden Merit:

  • Correa alba 'Pinkie' in 2002 and 
  • Correa backhouseana in 1992.

'Ivory Bells' favor partial sun.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies 'Ivory Bells,' along with other Correa hybrid cultivars, as hardy for Zone 9 (minimum winter temperature range: 20° to 30° Fahrenheit; -7° to -1° Celsius) to Zone 10 (40° to 50° F.; -1° to 4° C.).

'Ivory Bells' tend toward an equiproportionate outline, maximizing height and spread at 5 feet (1.5 meters).

Uppersides of leaves exhibit dull dark green coloration whereas undersides, studded with hairs, present pale greenish tan colors. Floral creamy whiteness represents a soft blending of the whiteness of Correa alba with the creamy greenness of Correa backhouseana.

As a compact and profusely flowering shrub in the rue and citrus family, Rutaceae, 'Ivory Bells' epitomizes the siren call of tubular white flowers for hummingbirds.

Potential visitors to 'Ivory Bells' in backyard gardens along the Pacific coasts of the continental United States and of Canada may include Xantus's hummingbirds.

 

Xantus's Hummingbird (Hylocharis xantusii)

Santiago, Baja California Sur, northwestern Mexico.
Santiago, Baja California Sur, northwestern Mexico.

 

Xantus's hummingbird (Basilinna xantusii) is a New World hummer considered endemic to the southern Baja Peninsula of northwestern Mexico.

Wanderlust propels these spirited hummers to journey up the Pacific coast of North America northward as far as Canada's western province of British Columbia.

Xantus's hummingbirds favor nectar sources, such as tubular-shaped flowers or hummingbird feeders, and protein sources, such as insects and spiders.

 

Distribution map of Xantus's Hummingbird

Basilinna xantusii map
Basilinna xantusii map

Hibiscus arnottianus arnottianus 'Kanani Kea'

"The two native Hawaiian white hibiscuses, Hibiscus arnottianus and H. waimeae, are the only known species of hibiscuses
"The two native Hawaiian white hibiscuses, Hibiscus arnottianus and H. waimeae, are the only known species of hibiscuses

 

Hibiscus arnottianus is known commonly in English as Hawaiian white hibiscus and in Hawaiian as kokiʻo keʻokeʻo ("kokiʻo that is white like the shine of silver"). A member of the family of mallows, Malvaceae, the spectacularly flowered hibiscus is endemic to Hawaii, with two subspecies (H. arnottianus and H. arnottianus punaluuensis) native to Oahu and its third subspecies, the endangered Hibiscus arnottianus immaculatus, native to Molokai.

Although hummingbirds are not native to Hawaii, they are familiar with Hawaiian white hibiscus as a transplant, propagated successfully by:

  • air layers,
  • grafting,
  • seeds, and 
  • semi-hardwood cuttings.

Filtered sunlight in dry to wet forest areas at elevations of 1,000 to 2,500 feet (300 - 800 meters) characterizes preferred native habitats of Hawaiian white hibiscus.

Nevertheless, elsewhere in the world Hawaiian white hibiscus thrives in full sun.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies Hibiscus arnottianus as hardy for Zone 10 (30° to 40° F.; -1° to 4° C.) to Zone 12 (50° to 60° F.; 10° to 16° C.).

Hawaiian white hibiscus stretches upward to a maximum of 25 feet (8 meters) and spreads to a maximum width of 10 feet (3 meters).

Dark green leaves serve as oval-shaped, smooth-edged frames for the striking whiteness of Hawaiian white hibiscus' solitary flowers with their red staminal columns.

The fragrant shrub shows beautifully as a hedge plant.

 

Hibiscus arnottianus immaculatus

one of three gorgeous subspecies of Hibiscus arnottianus
one of three gorgeous subspecies of H...

Hibiscus arnottianus punaluuensis: endangered subspecies of Hawaiian white hibiscus, native to Molokai

one of three subspecies of gorgeous Hibiscus arnottianus
one of three subspecies of gorgeous H...

Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens)

Savegre River Valley, San Gerardo de Dota, South Central Region, Costa Rica
Savegre River Valley, San Gerardo de Dota, South Central Region, Costa Rica

Distribution map of Magnificent Hummingbird

Yellow = Breeding range; Green = Breeding and wintering range
Eugenes fulgens map
Eugenes fulgens map

 

Hummingbirds, including magnificent hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens), appreciate hibiscuses. 

New World native magnificent hummingbird enjoys a large range of homelands in southern North America.

The large hummingbird breeds in:

  • southwestern United States: southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico;
  • northwestern Mexico: states of Chihuahua and Sonora.

They also breed and winter southward across Mexico and into six Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama).

Subspecies Eugenes fulgens fulgens has an expansive range in the United States, hovering in two other Mountain States (Colorado, Nevada) and fluttering as far westward as California and as far eastward as the Sunshine State, Florida. Sightings of resident Eugenes fulgens fulgens occur as far north as the North Star State, Minnesota.

 

foxglove beard-tongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Highland Park, Middlesex County, central New Jersey
Highland Park, Middlesex County, central New Jersey

 

Penstemon digitalis is known commonly as foxglove beard-tongue or talus slope penstemon.

The New World native perennial in the plantain family, Plantaginaceae, ranges across the central and eastern United States, from the Great Plains of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas eastward, including all states east of the mighty Mississippi River, with the exception of Florida.

Successful introduction of Penstemon digitalis into eastern Canada has garnered new homelands in two Maritime Provinces, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as in two east-central provinces, Quebec and Ontario.

Foxglove beard-tongue welcomes full or partial sunniness.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies Penstemon digitalis as hardy for Zone 3 (-40° to -30° F.; -40° to -34° C.) to Zone 9 (20° to 30° F.; -7° to -1° C.).

Foxglove beard-tongue maximizes its height at 5 feet (1.5 meters) and its spread at 12 to 24 inches (30 - 60 centimeters).

Glossy blue-green leaves with purple tints contrast strikingly with panicles of tubular white flowers flushed with purpled pinkness.

 

Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus)

Savegre Mountain Hotel, San Gerardo de Dota, South Central Region, Costa Rica
Savegre Mountain Hotel, San Gerardo de Dota, South Central Region, Costa Rica

 

The tubular shape of Penstemon flowers is attractive to hummingbirds. Among many nectar lovers in a backyard of foxgloves a possible visitor may be the Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus).

The New World hummingbird enjoys a large native range stretching from Mexico southward through six Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama) and further southward into the Andean countries of South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela).

Increasingly, Green Violetears are wandering north of their homelands, crossing the border into the United States. Southern sightings span the west and east coasts: California, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Georgia, and Florida.

Especially adventurous Green Violetears have even been sighted in Canada.

 

Distribution map of Green Violetear

Colibri thalassinus map
Colibri thalassinus map

purpled pink flush of showy whiteness of foxglove beard-tongue (Penstemon digitalis) in the landscape

Penstemon digitalis 'Dark Towers,' VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, southwest British Columbia
Penstemon digitalis 'Dark Towers,' VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, southwest British Columbia

Conclusion: Deliciousness of white-flowered nectar for hummingbirds

 

White is a showy color in nature. For hummingbirds, whiteness of appropriately shaped flowers signifies accessible nectar sources.

The beauty of white flowered nectar sources for attracting hummingbirds is evinced in three fragrant plants:

  • Correa alba x Correa backhouseana 'Ivory Bells';
  • Hawaiian white hibiscus (Hibiscus arnottianus A. Gray);
  • Foxglove beard-tongue or talus slope penstemon (Penstemon digitalis).

As shrubs, Hawaiian white hibiscus and Correa 'Ivory Bells' contribute outstanding profiles in the backyard landscape, for both in-ground and container gardens.

As a perennial, foxglove beard-tongue prettifies back yards as well, whether planted in-ground or in containers.

In attracting hummingbird visitors via white-flowered plantings, gardeners enjoy the extra benefits of the vivid yet peaceful showiness of floral whites and of the fragrances of this exquisite trio of white-flowered plants.

 

Correa 'Ivory Bells': popular hybrid cultivar with profusion of creamy white floral bells

"Flowers through the winter."
"Flowers through the winter."

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

Along with floral sources, hummingbird feeders also encourage hummingbirds to pay visits in the various landscapes of back yards.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, south central Colorado
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, south central Colorado

Sources

 

"Correa Australian Fuchsia." San Marcos Growers > Products > Shrubs. San Marcos Growers. Web. www.smgrowers.com

  • Available at: http://www.smgrowers.com/info/Correa.asp 

Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia. Volume I: A-K. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2003.

Flora: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia. Volume II: L-Z. Portland OR: Timber Press, 2004.

"Hibiscus arnottianus." University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources > Hawaiian Native Plant Propagation Database. University of Hawaii. Web. www2.hawaii.edu

  • Available at: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~eherring/hawnprop/hib-arno.htm

"Hibiscus arnottianus." National Tropical Botanical Garden > Meet the Plants. National Tropical Botanical Garden. Web. ntbg.org

  • Available at: http://ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=6101#

"Hummingbirds." Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants > Plant Guides > California Native Plants To Attract Wildlife: Hummingbirds. Last modified 5 October 2011. Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants. Web. theodorepayne.org

  • Available at: http://theodorepayne.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=Hummingbirds

Johnson, Sibylle. "Green Violet-Ear Hummingbirds." Avian Web BeautyOfBirds > Wild Birds > Birds/Location. 2011. Avian Web LLC. Web. beautyofbirds.com

  • Available at: http://beautyofbirds.com/greenvioletearhummingbirds.html

Johnson, Sibylle. "Magnificent Hummingbirds." Avian Web BeautyOfBirds > Wild Birds > Birds/Location. 2011. Avian Web LLC. Web. beautyofbirds.com

  • Available at: http://beautyofbirds.com/magnificenthummingbirds.html

Johnson, Sibylle. "Xantus's Hummingbird."  Avian Web BeautyOfBirds > Wild Birds > Birds/Location. 2011. Avian Web LLC. Web. beautyofbirds.com

  • Available at: http://beautyofbirds.com/xantusshummingbirds.html

Kirkpatrick, J. "Regional Planting Guide to Attract Hummingbirds." Garden Artisans > Articles. GardenArtisans.com. Web. www.gardenartisans.us

  • Available at: http://www.gardenartisans.us/articles/Regional%20Plant%20Guide%20for%20Hummingbirds.html

Keena, Colleen, Kristin Yanker-Hansen, and Marcos Capelini. "Amazing Arnottianus! Fragrant Queen of the Tropics." Hibiscus International, Special Supplement, Vol. 3 No. 4 (August-October 2003).

  • Available at: http://www.internationalhibiscussociety.org/hiv1n16P2.htm

McKinley, Michael. Ortho's All About Attracting Birds. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Books, 2001.

Newfield, Nancy L., and Barbara Nielsen. Hummingbird Gardens: Attracting Nature's Jewels to Your Backyard. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.

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

"Red flower currant Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle.'" Fine Gardening > Plant Guide. The Taunton Press. Web. www.finegardening.com

  • Available at: http://www.finegardening.com/red-flowering-currant-ribes-sanguineum-white-icicle

Roth, Sally. Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard. Rodale Organic Gardening Book. Emmaus PA: Rodale, 2001. 

"White Blooming Plants That Attract Hummingbirds." GardenGuides.com > Plant Guides. Demand Media. Web. www.gardenguides.com

  • Available at: http://www.gardenguides.com/91185-white-blooming-plants-attract-hummingbirds.html

"White Hibiscus Flower." GardenGuides.com > Plant Guides. Demand Media. Web. www.gardenguides.com

  • Available at: http://www.gardenguides.com/110638-white-hibiscus-flower.html

Wilson, Bert. "How to Create a Hummingbird Garden in California." Las Pilitas Nursery > Birds and the Bees. Last edited on October 11, 2013. Las Pilitas Nursery. Web. www.laspilitas.com

  • Available at: http://www.laspilitas.com/garden/hummingbird.html

 

 

a sea of breathtaking whiteness with red stamens flaring like candles: Hawaiian white hibiscus

Recycling Center, Kahului, northwestern Maui
Recycling Center, Kahului, northwestern Maui
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
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 08/22/2014

VioletteRose, Hibiscus flowers are beautiful in all colors of the rainbow. Although red-stamened white hibiscus is attractive, I find the pure white, including white stamens, to be quite stunning.

VioletteRose on 08/22/2014

I think I have never seen the white hibiscus with red staminal columns, I have known only the pure white one. This is very informative!

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