Gladioli are some of the most vibrantly-colored and exotic-looking flowers you can grow in the garden – but are these ‘sword lilies’ good for attracting hummingbirds?
It turns out that Gladiolus flowers are excellent for hummingbirds for several reasons. In this article, we’ll be exploring why they’re popular with hummers, as well as learning about some other popular flowers that might be even better!
What Are Gladioli? (Maybe Not What You Thought!)
Gladioli is the plural of Gladiolus. These popular garden plants are sometimes known as ‘sword lilies’ or ‘sword flowers’ because of their beautifully tall, slender flower spikes.
What many people don’t realize is that Gladioli aren’t a single type of plant, but a large genus containing around 300 species. Most of these come from Southern Africa, but a few species are endemic to Tropical Africa, Southern Europe, and Asia as well.
Of the hundreds of species, the types most commonly seen in gardens are hybrids from Gladiolus grandiflorus, Gladiolus primulinus, and Gladiolus nanus.
Gladioli evolved in different continents to where hummingbirds occur, but in their native lands, some species are pollinated by sunbirds, Africa’s answer to the hummingbird.
Why Hummingbirds Like Gladioli
Did you know that hummingbirds have the highest energy consumption of any vertebrate in the world? Beating their wings at up to 70 beats per second, they need a huge amount of calories to maintain their active lifestyle.
To attract pollinators to carry pollen from one flower to another, gladioli produce large amounts of nectar – that sweet, sugary liquid that’s full of energy.
Since hummingbirds rely on nectar to fuel their massive energy demand, it’s hardly surprising that gladioli make a favorite flower to feed from.
Tubular Shaped Flowers
With their long, slender bills, hummingbirds have evolved as specialist feeders from long tubular-shaped flowers.
Although the different species of gladiolus differ in the shape of their flowers, all species have fairly deep, bell-shaped flowers that are ideal for hummingbirds to feed from.
Another attribute that hummingbirds are looking for in their favorite flowers to feed from is the right height.
Hummers prefer not to feed from flowers on the ground because flying low makes them more vulnerable to predators such as cats and snakes.
With their tall flower spikes that often reach 4 feet high, gladioli offer up a tasty snack to hummingbirds at a safer height. The tall flowers are also more visible, easily catching the eye of pollinators as they pass by.
As well as being rich in nectar, gladioli flowers are often of an attractive color to lure hummingbirds in.
Hummingbirds are drawn to flowers of bright colors that stand out in the garden and are especially fond of the color red. One reason that hummers are particularly drawn to red flowers is that other pollinators such as bees can’t see red at all.
While bees are particularly fond of flowers in the blueish spectrum, plants that wanted to encourage hummingbirds rather than insects evolved red flowers. Such examples are cardinal flowers and fuchsias.
Because red is a popular color for gladioli, hummingbirds waste no time in zipping to the tall red blooms, as we can see in this video.
Are Red Gladioli More Popular With Hummingbirds?
Because hummingbirds seem especially drawn to red flowers, you might be wondering if red gladioli are the best choice to attract hummingbirds.
Scientists studying hummingbird preference for color discovered that it’s the quantity of nectar and not the flower color that makes the biggest difference to a hummingbird’s feeding preference.
How To Grow Gladioli
Gladioli are fairly easy to grow in flower beds, but you still need to know how to plant and care for them.
These exotic flowering plants are grown from corms – underground storage organs that are similar to bulbs. Gladioli corms should be planted 4-5 inches deep, with the pointed side facing up. They’ll usually take around 90 days until flowering.
Because they come from hot, dry climates, gladioli will do best in well-drained soil in a sunny position. Support tall flower spikes with canes or other types of plant supports.
Most garden gladioli are hardy to USDA zones 7-9, meaning that if you live in mild areas, you might be able to leave the corms in the ground over winter. In colder climates, corms need to be dug up and replanted each spring.
Other Flowers That Hummingbirds Like
Now you know that hummingbirds love nectar-rich flowers with a tubular shape and bright colors. So, what other flowers are a favorite for these colorful birds?
We’ve dedicated a special article to exploring the best flowers to attract hummingbirds here. Some of the highlights include Bee Balm (Bergamot), Cardinal Flower, Columbine, Coral Bells, Hollyhocks, Zinnias, and Impatiens.
Why Native Plants Are Important for Hummingbirds
Planting exotic types of flowers like gladioli to attract hummingbirds is a good way to increase diversity in the garden, but the most beneficial plants for hummers are usually native species.
Native flowers are excellent for hummingbirds because they’ve evolved together over thousands of years. Since hummingbirds don’t occur away from the Americas, plants from other continents haven’t developed as the perfect match for hummers.
Additionally, native plants support a much higher number of insect species than foreign plants. Insects are important to hummingbirds, because as well as delicious nectar, these winged-jewels feed heavily upon invertebrates such as bugs, mites, midges, mosquitoes, and spiders.
If you want to provide a rich protein supply as well as a nectar-rich garden for hummers, then be sure to plant plenty of native flowers. Some of the best native perennials for hummingbirds are:
Eastern Columbine, Turtlehead, Blazing star, Cardinal Flower, Blue Lobelia, Wild Lupine, Virginia bluebells, Monarda species, Beards Tongue, False Dragonhead, Bowman’s Root, and Wild Petunias are among a few of the dozens of excellent native flowers for hummingbirds.
A Native Wildflower Meadow
Perhaps the very best habitat to attract and support hummingbirds is a wildflower meadow. Even if you only have a small backyard, planting a small area of wildflowers can do wonders for native birds, as well as insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.
A great way to establish a wildflower meadow is to sow seeds on bare ground on poor-quality soil. In these conditions, wildflowers are likely to outcompete grasses and bloom heavily.
Nowadays, some seed companies have made it easier than ever to choose the right wildflowers for hummingbirds by putting together specially selected mixtures of wildflower seeds to attract hummingbirds.
Last update on 2023-12-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Gladioli are great plants for hummingbirds for many reasons. Their nectar-rich, bell-shaped, colorful flowers can prove to be a magnet for hummers in the summer and early autumn months.
It should be remembered, however, that Gladioli are not native species and therefore don’t provide as many benefits to hummingbirds and the wider ecosystem as native wildflowers.