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The Hummingbird Garden in The Centennial Arboretum
Hummingbirds know precisely when these flowers are at the peak of nectar production
by Pamela Sodi, co-founder of The Friends of the Horticultural Center of the Centennial Arboretum - 7/30/2012
By the end of July the Ruby-Throated hummingbirds in the Hummingbird Garden are in fast motion. Every day there is a frenzy of activity—aerial acrobatics, courting, nesting, and flitting furiously from flower to flower with the goal of doubling their weight before they make their 500 mile non-stop trek over the Gulf of Mexico to their winter home. They visit a minimum of 1,000 flowers per day! They are amazingly small and delicate creatures with an acute sense of sight and hearing, and very large brains for the size of their bodies. They are typically drawn to the color red.
I have had many face-to-face encounters with hummers in the garden when I wear my red shirt, as they hover in front of me to decide whether or not I am a big flower. The garden is full of bright red, pink and orange flowers—lobelia cardinalis, trumpet vine, monarda, honeysuckle, begonias, pentas, red raspberry salvia, agastache ava, agastache acapulco, hardy fuschia, penstemon, silene regia, and red texas sage among them.
Hummers are attracted to cup-shaped flowers which best accommodate their long tongues in lapping up nectar. They can lap up nectar at the rate of 13 licks per second. They know precisely when a flower is at the peak of nectar production, and they know how long it will be before the nectar is replenished. A surprise to me was the flurry of activity in my patch of black and blue salvia, since blue is a color they do not easily see. A hummingbird expert who visited the garden several years ago told me that although they do not easily see the blue spectrum, the black and blue salvia is so rich in nectar that a hummer will seek it out. Once a hummer finds it in your garden it will remember it, and come back to look for it year after year. I have found this to be true.
Hummers are excellent pollinators and also pest control experts. To fulfill their requirement for protein, they consume aphids, whiteflies, mosquitoes, gnats, weevils, small beetles, small spiders, and insect eggs. Their body metabolism is so high that an adult hummer can consume up to 13,000 calories per day.
I believe that a garden is a great experiment—full of challenges and rewards. The Hummingbird Garden in the Centennial Arboretum had been an abandoned space between two working gardens. It was consumed by two invasive weeds, Bishop’s Weed (or Gout Weed) and Houttuynia. After several months of lovingly bending over removing every root of the invasives from each shovelful of soil, I became familiar with the chortle of the hummers as they visited the trumpet vine that spilled over the fence. They would playfully whirr past my ears as I patiently weeded. I got to know them, as they got to know me. They may be shy when strangers visit the garden, but they have become quite accustomed to my garden routine. Last week I was rewarded when I hummer landed on a branch in the cornus mas dogwood tree a foot from my face. I freeze to observe them when they are near. This young adult ruffled its feathers and began to preen. I had never seen that before!
What a lovely sight it is to behold.