Plants which Attract Birds, Butterflies,
Bees, Bats, Sucriers or Bananaquits and Other Forms of Wildlife
by Mrs. Chancy Moll-President of the Trinidad Garden Club
(Click on the plant name below to go directly to that plant. Allow a few moments for pictures to load) Please note we cannot accept any responsibility for the advice or recommendations contained here which are given in good faith. Caveat Emptor.
As any true gardener would tell you, gardening is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling endeavours. The feeling one derives from planting, nurturing and bringing plants to maturity and/or into blossom is essentially indescribable. It could only be understood through experience. In fact there is a primeval connection with nature and the urge to care for and nurture as well as to surround oneself with an aesthetically pleasing environment. Undoubtedly gardening provides this and more.
Gardening has a long and diverse pedigree and could be found in most cultures. Most ancient cultures regard nature and man as having an organic relationship, while some view human beings as stewards of nature.
It is in this vein that I intend to present plants which attract birds, butterflies, bees, bats and other forms of wildlife. Apart from their aesthetic appeal it makes good sense to have such creatures in a garden. In the first instance gardens should be oases and havens of natural beauty. Trinidad and Tobago is very fortunate to have myriad species of birds, butterflies, frogs etc. and as responsible citizens we should all try our best to preserve this natural heritage and patrimony.
More importantly, from a scientific background such creatures could also be very useful. Their existence within a garden environment ensures the preservation of the natural and symbiotic relationships within nature. In other words the perpetuation of the natural balance where possible.
Birds, bees, butterflies and other insects may also act as pollinators within a garden setting prompting the creation of new hybrids (I have had great success with coleus) and even the generation of seeds. Of course there is also a lot to be said for natural predators. Much is still unknown about the activity of most insects and unfortunately they are generally all thought to be destructive.
Given the historical data with respect to the toxicity to both humans and wildlife, (for those interested see Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, it documents some of the devastating and destructive effects of chemical-use in the US) the numerous hazards and other detracting attributes of most chemicals, extreme caution should be exercised when selecting chemicals to be utilised in one's garden. A concerted effort should also be made to utilise chemicals derived from natural sources such as plants where necessary.
In my respectful view a garden containing no matter how many spectacularly beautiful plants would be tremendously lacking if it were silent and without wildlife. I hope the following would be a useful guide in your gardening endeavours. Happy Gardening. Note: This list would be routinely updated.
ANTIGONON LEPTOPUS / CORALLITA- This vine has been around for a very long time ,it brings back memories of butterflies and small honeybees. It is a most beautiful shade of pink and can be quite a heavy vine. An important point to note is that there is a cultivar that is far more prolific than the traditional variety, one in which the individual buds open into beautiful flowers. This vine also makes a good cut-flower and can often be found on sale in certain shops. It is truly a most magnificent vine and one worth having.
APHELANDRA SINCLAIRIANA- This is a most gorgeous medium-sized shrub. What makes it striking and quite spectacular is the odd combination of colour. It is coral pink and orange with a bright pink inflorescence. Generally it grows to approximately 5-6 feet and has a blooming period that lasts for several months. It can grow and bloom quite effectively in shade or as an understory plant. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to attract hummingbirds or any nectar-loving bird such as sucrier or even butterflies.
BELAPERONE / SHRIMP PLANT- This plant's most special qualities are that it blooms in shade and it attracts hummingbirds. This genus is similar to justicia and pachystachys as they all fall under the umbrella of 'acanthaceae' and therefore share similar attributes. To get the best out of this plant one needs to prune it from early so that it thickens out otherwise it would begin to crawl and this may not necessarily be desirable.
BUDLEIA DAVIDII -This plant is commonly referred to as "butterfly bush". There are several varieties but only two could be grown with any real measure of success in Trinidad and Tobago. These are the light purple and the white. These are attractive bushes and could even grow up to five feet. For good growth they do require a well-drained soil, regular pruning and at least half a day's sun. They are also mildly fragrant and especially attractive to butterflies.
CALLIANDRA EMARGINATA/ MINATURE POWDERPUFF- This medium-sized shrub is spectacular when in flower. The blooms are brilliant red and really stand out. Also, if one looks closely at the flower one would understand the rationale for its name. This particular variety grows approximately six to seven feet and is always in bloom. For those interested in bright colours, this is a must. To my mind it looks like what I imagine a miniature samaan tree would be. Bear in mind that they are in the same botanical grouping that is "leguminosae" and that there are several other types of calliandra, however, they are larger growing.
CALLISTEMON or BOTTLEBRUSH- There are several varieties of bottlebrush, but in Trinidad the most popular one is "viminalis" or the weeping bottlebrush. This is a most beautiful and elegant small tree with gorgeous bright red flowers, also the fact that the branches are pendulous adds to its attractiveness and appeal. It is a definite asset if one is attempting to attract hummingbirds. Another significant bit of information is that the bark of this tree is quite pretty and is receptive to hosting tillandsias. The bark of the bottlebrush tree is also useful when trying to grow certain orchids especially those that could be tied directly to the trunk of the tree.
CHRYSOTHEMIS PULCHELLA - This is a traditional old-time garden plant ( it is reputed to have originated in Trinidad) and was very popular in gardens in the countryside. Perhaps that is the reason why it is commonly referred to as the "cocoa lily". It grows best in shady conditions and can act as an effective groundcover, however, every few months it would require a heavy pruning to maintain a healthy appearance and maximise flowering. It normally comes in green foliage or brown foliage with lovely, bright orange flowers. This plant is a definite must for gardeners wanting to attract hummingbirds into their garden.
CLERODENDRUM SPECIOSISSIMUM- There are many varieties of clerodendrum. This particular one does not share the most negative feature that the others do ,I speak of no other trait than " ADVENTITIOUS ROOTS". For those who have clerodendrums you would know of which I speak. Essentially, you need a cutlass or machete once you have planted these plants , this is because shoots come up everywhere. They could also become a nightmare if not monitored, but then not all are vigorous growers.This particular variety is quite an attractive specimen blooming almost all year in brilliant sunshine or in shady conditions. It is also not tall-growing ,getting to a maximum of five to six feet or so.It also makes a good middle -level plant in a garden bed ,that is three to four feet and blooms from quite young .Last but not least ,it does attract both nectar-loving birds as well as butterflies.
CLERODENDRUM X SPECIOSISSIMUM / BLEEDING HEART VINE - This vining shrub is a very attractive and relatively small plant. The blooms are quite unusual in their arrangement and the foliage is also quite beautiful. It can be easily trained up a small arbour or trellis and does very well in a bit of shade. Hummingbirds find this plant very appealing. For best results and to increase the regularity of blooms, it requires routine pruning and the "non- presence" of bachacs. Bachacs will devour this plant in a short space of time.
CLERODENDRUM THOMSONAE / BLEEDING HEART VINE - This particular clerodendrum is a most attractive plant. Its beauty lies in the sharp contrast in colour within its flowering parts, clear ivory white and blood red. It is not a particularly vigorous vine but can grow to be quite large. It blooms routinely from the young shoots and regular pruning would prompt greater prolificacy. Both hummingbirds and butterflies find this plant attractive but unfortunately bachacs find it irresistable.
COSTUS SPECIOSUS -- This particular costus is a specie and is a strong grower. It is an attractive plant with huge red inflorescences and beautiful white showy blooms. It is a common sight in Gran Couva in the old estates and in most rural areas. This plant could be used quite effectively in landscaping as it is versatile; it can tolerate both dry and damp soil as well as shady or sunny conditions. For best results, however, a bit of shade is best. Generally, it can grow from five feet up to eight feet in very good soil and has a slight curl to the stalks. This adds to its exotic appeal. There is also a beautiful variegated sport of this costus. The latter grows quite similarly to speciosus but has striking, predominantly white foliage while the stalks are a vibrant dark red as are the inflorescences. The foliage contrasts nicely against the stems and makes for a lovely and showy plant. It is important to note that this sport maintains its colour in sunny or shady conditions. Because costus grows by rhizomes one must be cautious and not allow it to overtake" other plants. I would unhesitatingly recommend this plant for any garden (costus can also be grown quite successfully in pots) large or small. Not only is it beautiful, and for me typifies a very tropical landscape, but also attracts nectar-loving birds, butterflys and bees.
CUPHEA/ MYRTLE/ HEATHER- Several varieties could be found in Trinidad and Tobago. The more popular varieties range from light purple to dark purple, several shades of pink and lilac, white, and even red. There is also the popular coloured leaf variety commonly referred to as "Martiniquan Cuphea". These are tough bedding plants useful for borders and hedges. They do best in full sun and can withstand a fair amount of dryness. One would do well to bear in mind that they essentially come in three sizes, from the miniature form, to a twelve to fifteen inch size, right up to a thirty to thirty-six inch height. This plant is one of the easiest to grow and acts as a veritable magnet for butterflies. It is also quite effective in attracting smaller varieties of hummingbirds.
DURANTA REPENS / "PIGEON BERRY" Within recent times several new varieties of duranta have been introduced in Trinidad. These vary tremendously in colour and form and are therefore quite versatile and useful in landscaping. What also adds to its appeal is that it is relatively hardy and resistant to most pests. One can safely say that one particular variety ,(golden duranta) is by far the most overwhelmingly popular plant for hedging in Trinidad. The larger forms are also quite popular for tall hedges and can even be used for topiaries. Notwithstanding the tremendous diversity in the colour of the blooms or foliage, it remains a plant that attracts both butterflies and birds. These birds are not limited to nectar-loving birds but also include other birds who feast on the berries that grow in abundance on this plant.
EPISCIA CUPREATA - There are several varieties of episcia, these may differ in leaf colour and/or the colour of the bloom. This particular variety has yellow flowers but there are others with pink, red, and even purple flowers. There must also be something said for the tremendous diversity and beauty of the foliage. Foliage could be bright green or dark brown or even bi-coloured. And even those that are one solid colour may vary to include different coloured striations. Episcias could be grown in baskets or as a beautiful ground-cover. To get best results they require some shade, and damp soil or high humidity. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked as being common and regular, however, if used effectively can be quite striking. The added bonus is that nectar-loving birds come to this plant.
GLOXINIA SYLVASTICA - Stunning low bedding plant. Brilliant vermillion flowers, the colour of the blooms on this plant is fairly uncommon and really makes a show. It grows and blooms best in partial shade and requires routine cutting back to allow young growth and more blooms. It also does a good job of attracting hummingbirds.
Ixora Nora Grant yellow
JACOBINEA - Two varieties that are common in Trinidad and Tobago are white and a lovely rose pink. These are also shade-loving, grow to approximately twenty-four to thirty inches and possess nectar which attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
JUSTICIA - There are several varieties under this genus. One that is only now becoming popular is a clear yellow variety that blooms well in shady conditions. Generally it grows to approximately thirty to thirty-six inches. Another variety that is quite common is one that is bright scarlet red. This can be found along riverbanks and even along the periphery of old estates. A good example is in parts of Gran Couva along the side of the road. Both varieties are shade-loving and make lovely small to medium garden plants and they both attract butterflies and nectar-loving birds.
LANTANA CAMARA - One of the most popular and visible plants in tropical landscapes. It is utilised by some for medicinal purposes but more significantly for its tremendous and colourful impact. It is also highly useful for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. Some birds even consume the seeds which it produces. Lantana comes in a variety of colours, from whites, creams, yellows, oranges, reds, purples et al and many mutations between. More importantly, they come in trailing, mounding and upright varieties a fact which we must be cognisant of when planning a landscape. Lantanas require full sun or at the very least sunlight for half of the day for full impact.
LONICERA - There are several varieties in Trinidad but the most predominant one is "hildebrandtiana". This is the honeysuckle vine, a beautiful and strong grower. An important fact to note is that it will flower in full sun or partial shade and has a lovely fragrance. Moreover, it is always in flower and is well- known for attracting hummingbirds.
MARIGOLDS - Both hybrid as well as traditional varieties of marigolds make an attractive show. They are very useful bedding plants as well as general garden plants. Apart from their beauty though, they do attract butterflies which definitely adds to their appeal.
MELASTOMA DECEMFIDUM- This medium-sized shrub grows to about eight feet. It does best in partial shade and blooms several times a year for several weeks at a time. The blooms are quite attractive a rich pinky-lilac colour and almost two inches across. This plant is very special because it attracts a specie of bird that is becoming uncommon in the wild. After flowering ,the calyx of the flower forms seeds that are covered with a pulp that attracts the semp. Most people would know the semp as a caged bird kept for its whistling ability,( hence the reason for its dwindling numbers in the wild) this plant, however, seems to be very appealing to the semp. On mornings and even during the day, both male and female semp can be seen feasting on the seeds of this plant, it is an amazing sight. So, well apart from the general beauty of the plant there is also the bonus of attracting semp as well as black bumblebees who do a good job of fertilising the flowers in the first instance. This is one plant I would definitely recommend for those wanting to help preserve our ecology and natural symbiosis. N.B. This plant is often mistakenly called "PINK TIBOUCHINA".
This is a relatively small vine and is one of the oldest vines around Trinidad. It is a lovely striking orange in colour and blooms in clusters of compositae flowers. It is also ideal for a small trellis or arbour but must be planted in full sun. The one downside to this vine that I can think of, is that after the blooms go over they do not fall off, however, this can be easily overlooked when one considers how dramatic a bloomer it is . A point that should also be remembered is that it is salt-tolerant and can withstand a certain amount of sea blast. If you want to create some "old-time charm" complete with butterflies in your garden this should be a definite must.
Green & Pink
ODONTONEMA STRICTUM / HUMMINGBIRD PLANT - The name of this plant says it all. It really is very effective in attracting hummingbirds. Presently there are three very popular varieties,in Trinidad, a bright scarlet red "cuspidatum", ( there are two red forms one that is crested and one that is not ), purple (callistachyum), and lilac. These do best in a bit of shade and grow to about six feet or so if left uncut. They make an attractive bush and can be used very effectively in a landscape introducing quite a bit of colour in a shady environment.
PACHYSTACHYS LUTEA- This is also known as the "shrimp plant" or "candlestick plant". It does not require direct sunlight to flower. In fact it grows better and blooms profusely in a shady environment. It is very useful if attempting to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. While this variety is a rich butter yellow there are several others that are also generally known as the "shrimp plant". Most of these fall under the acanthaceae family, and one that is quite popular is belaperone. This is normally a lovely dark purple red and flowers profusely. Other colours include a smaller flowered light brownish red colour and even lemon, and they all require the same conditions as pachystachys lutea and possess the same attributes.
PONTEDERIA CORDATA - There are several varieties of pontederia currently available in Trinidad. Pink, purple and white are the basic colours for sale. These plants are quite attractive and what is of special importance is that they are aquatic. Within recent times old "coppers" have become "en vogue" as have water features within the garden landscape, consequently, there is a demand for water plants. Pontederias can help to fill this demand as they are prolific, and unlike nympheas they stay open all day. Also important is that they are suitable for both large and small water features,the one detracting factor, however, is that they could become invasive if not monitored. An important point to note is that they also tolerate semi-dry soil and could be planted directly into the ground they even thrive in soil that is water-logged. A useful practice also, is the routine pruning and cutting back of old stalks as this prompts better growth and more blooms. the added bonus is that pontederias attract butterflies, bees as well as dragonflys.
RONDELETIA ODORATA - This plant has been around for many years. There used to be ( I don't know if it is still there) a magnificent specimen in the Botanic gardens . Generally, for maximum prolificacy and growth it requires full sun and a well-drained soil. The flowers also last for some time and the plant blooms all year. It is especially attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Unfortunately though, it is an extremely slow grower.
RUSSELIA / ANTIGUA HEATH - Predominant varieties are red and yellow. They require full sun to flower optimally and they could also grow in relatively little and even poor soil. Some measure of success can also be achieved when using them to help prevent slippage of soil (for example on hillsides). They also make beautiful hedges and are especially attractive to hummingbirds.
TECOMARIA CAPENSIS- This plant is commonly referred to as Cape honeysuckle (as it originates out of South Africa). It can be utilised as a specimen plant or can be used to form a hedge. The most popular and robust variety is brilliant orange in colour. There are two others in Trinidad but nowhere as vigorous, these are lemon and sort of bronze in colour. The name of this plant describes its essential trait "honeysuckle". It is very attractive to hummingbirds.
VERVINE - There are three major varieties grown for their ornamental value in Trinidad and Tobago. The most common and vigorous is purple and it grows to approximately six feet or so. There is also a coral pink which is not as vigorous or as prolific and there is a red which is relatively smaller but very attractive. These grow well in full sun or partial shade and is a must for gardeners attempting to attract hummingbirds.
ZINNIAS- Zinnias whether hybrid or so- called old time varieties are a veritable magnet for butterflies. They are also very easy to grow and like marigolds are quite diverse in their size and colours.