Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2010
Regional Report

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Passion vine is a terrific plant to attract butterflies.

Top Ten Plants for Pollinators

My last report covered the importance of pollinators, and as promised, here are terrific plants to encourage birds, bees, butterflies, bats and moths to visit your garden. I narrowed the choices to ten of my favorite low-water-use plants native to the Southwest U.S. or Mexico. I'd like to hear what favored plants attract pollinators to your yard!

Tree: Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). This is a terrific tree with pretty, orchid-like flowers offering nectar from spring through fall. I often spy a hummingbird sitting in desert willow, surveying the territory, preparing to dive-bomb interlopers. Attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and songbirds.

Tree/Shrub: Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa). This relatively underused thornless native is an option for small yards. It grows as a large shrub or small tree, 15 x 10 feet tall and wide, with a naturalistic appearance. It produces white flower spikes throughout summer. Attracts butterflies and bees.

Shrub: Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica). One of my all-time favorite plants for its fanciful flowers (they really do resemble something a tidy fairy might use for dusting!) and because it blooms year around in the low desert, taking a timeout only when temperatures drop into freezing. Attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and songbirds.

Shrub: Bee Bush (Aloysia gratissima, A. lycioides, A. wrightii). Although the plant itself can look sparse, it makes up for it with heady, vanilla scent when in bloom. Some plants have thorns; some white flower spikes may be tinged with violet. Blooms in spring and intermittently into fall. Attracts bees and butterflies.

Shrub: Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima). Vivid orange and yellow flowers bloom from late spring through summer heat into fall. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

Perennial: Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua). Tucson sculptor Greg Corman, who creates intriguing habitats for native female bees to build their nests, comments that he sees native bees curled up in globe mallow's cup-shaped flowers, taking a siesta, perhaps. It's a spring bloomer, with many selections available in orange, white, pink, cherry and lavender flower colors. Globe mallow self-sows readily.

Perennial: Eupatorium greggii 'Boothill'. Fuzzy lavender flowers about the size of a quarter are covered in butterflies sipping nectar from spring to fall. More butterflies flit overhead, waiting for a space to land. The plant may die back in winter, but returns in spring.

Groundcover: Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa). Don't forget the night fliers, such as moths and bats. They are drawn to white or creamy night-blooming flowers, such as this primrose. Its fragrant flowers open from dusk to dawn, usually winter to spring.

Succulent: Night-blooming Hesperaloe (H. nocturna). Another night-bloomer with pale creamy-green flowers to draw moths and bats in late spring and summer. This bulletproof plant has narrow, grass-like leaves that grow about 4 feet tall.

Vine: Passion Vine (Passiflora foetida). This native passion vine's foliage feeds the caterpillars of the stunning Gulf Fritillary. Don't be surprised if the black and rust colored caterpillars consume most of the plant! (If roots are established, it will come back.) Regular visits from the gorgeous orange butterflies are worth the price of the plant, in my opinion. If you can't find this one, most passion vine species attract butterflies.

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