The Hummingbird’s Choice Award goes to … Chuparosa!
If Arizona’s hummingbirds could vote on a state flower, it would be Chuparosa (Justicia californica). A mainstay of most wildlife gardens, this long-suffering desert beauty asks little and gives much. It can be grown long and lanky, spindly branches vining into trees — or pruned to take on a more civilized appearance. Either way, gardeners are treated to lipstick-like blooms almost year round. Hummingbirds, too, highly endorse the profuse blossoms that fit the textbook description of a hummingbird flower: tubular and red. Very rarely one might encounter a plant with yellow or orange flowers … and rest assured that the hummingbirds make good use of these as well.
Tolerant of poor soils, drought conditions, and even the blazing sun, Chuparosa is truly a wonder plant. Although difficult (at least for me) to propagate from cuttings, it will readily self-seed. The seed pods themselves are delightful, tiny boxing-glove-shaped affairs that will bust apart with force upon ripening. What a marvelous way for this plant to fling seeds every which way! Those that accuse Chuparosa of a rangy, weedy appearance need only chastise themselves and take to the plant with a pair of shears. Gentle now, those green stems do double-duty; the plant is drought deciduous and can photosynthesize through the stems. Although Chuparosa can get frost nipped below 32 degrees, they are hearty to the mid-20s and will spring back to life from the roots when the temperature warms — just prune back the damaged areas.
Chuparosa typically grows to a four-foot mound, and the blooming plant is a sight to behold. The next time you find yourself enjoying one, let your ears partake, too. Listen closely for a new springtime sound: the wing buzz of a Black-chinned Hummingbird. Like the hum of a very small light-saber, this unique noise means that there’s a new (and hungry) kid in town. Fresh from a winter vacation in Mexico, Black-chinned Hummingbirds return to Arizona to find a mate, nest, raise young, and prepare for fall migration. Their arrival heralds spring and reminds us that our lovely gardens can provide critical resources for migratory birds.
Besides the Chuparosa, there are many other desert-adapted plants that will attract hummingbirds. Here are a few suggestions from our previous Plant of the Month features:
Still not sure what to plant for birds? Check out Audubon’s Native Plant Database.
And if you’re looking to add additional shrubs, trees, and groundcovers to your landscape, take a look at our Plant of the Month archives to find just the right plant.
Water – Use It Wisely is proud to feature guest bloggers who write about topics related to water and water conservation. The author of this blog post, Cathy Wise, is the education director with Audubon Arizona, whose mission is to protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation.
Photographer Steve Prager is an important bird area program associate & teacher/naturalist with Audubon Arizona.
Photographer Donna DiFrancesco is a water conservation coordinator with the City of Mesa.