Hibiscus plants are popular flowers for many reasons – their flowers are used to flavor teas and other drinks, they’re beautiful additions to any ornamental flower garden, and pollinators love them.
There are hundreds of plants in the Hibiscus genus, native to every continent except Antarctica. For those in the Americas where hummingbirds are native, this makes them great garden choices for hummingbird lovers.
What Attracts Hummingbirds to Hibiscus?
Hummingbirds require lots of energy throughout the day to power their little wings – well at least a lot of energy in proportion to their body size. According to the San Diego Zoo, hummingbirds need to eat between 3.14 and 7.6 calories per day.
That may seem like almost nothing, but each hummingbird weighs between a tenth and a fifth of an ounce. In proportion, three to five calories for a hummingbird is like a human consuming 155,000 calories, the San Diego Zoo states.
For us to reach 155,000 calories, we’d have to eat constantly, so the same goes for hummingbirds. Hibiscus flowers’ bright colors and abundant nectar attract hummingbirds in their never-ending search for food.
Do Hibiscus Species and Color Matter for Hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds are generally believed to be attracted to the color red, which is why hummingbird feeders are typically red, and artificial nectar was often colored red in the past (although that’s unnecessary).
They’re also attracted to orange, yellow, and pink, although they will also visit purple, blue, and white flowers, among others.
Hibiscus species don’t make much of a difference to the birds, but which species grow best in your area will depend on your location.
How Many Types of Hibiscus Are There? Which Ones Are Native to North America?
There are 22 species of wild hibiscus that grow in the Continental United States, and Alaska is the only state with no wild hibiscus species, according to a 2015 post from user Horntoad on a National Gardening Association forum, citing Botia of North America Program.
The Rocky Mountains and some other western regions are home to primarily non-native species, but the American Southwest and most of the eastern United States host a number of native hibiscus species. Here are a few examples:
Rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos): Native to the eastern United States from Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico, rose mallow grows in marshy areas, but it has also become a common garden plant.
Halberd-leaf rose mallow (Hibiscus laevis): Halberd-leaf rose mallow has a similarly wide range across the eastern United States, where you can find them in the wild in marshes, stream-sides, and beyond.
Rock hibiscus (Hibiscus denudatus): Rock hibiscus is a native of the American Southwest and Mexico. Growing in these areas requires them to survive dry conditions, and they have thin, small stems and flowers in comparison to other hibiscus species.
Large-flowered hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus): The southeastern United States is home to the large-flowered hibiscus, otherwise known as swamp rose mallow. Sometimes called dinner plate hibiscus, the flowers of this plant can grow up to nine inches wide.
Desert rose mallow (Hibiscus coulteri): Very drought-tolerant, this plant is native to the American Southwest and Mexico and can bloom during the hottest periods when other plants are not as colorful, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Scarlet rose mallow (Hibiscus coccineus): Despite its other common name, Texas star, this plant is not native to Texas, but rather to eastern states from Louisiana to the Atlantic Coast.
There are other native hibiscus plants as well as non-native species that have been introduced across the country. Plant whichever species is your favorite, but there are some very important benefits to planting native plants.
Why Are Native Plants Important?
Native plants support far more life than non-native plants. All plants have their benefits, but wildlife stands to benefit from all of us planting native.
Well-known Entomologist Doug Tallamy of the University of Delaware showed that native plants supported 74 species of native caterpillars in the mid-Atlantic region, while non-native plants supported just five. This can make a huge difference in building a lively backyard ecosystem.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation states that a chickadee pair requires as many as 9,000 caterpillars in less than a month to feed their nestlings. Chickadees need 70 percent native plants in their territory to successfully raise their young, according to the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.
If you want to see more birds in your yard, planting native plants is the number one thing you can do. Hummingbirds will love any hibiscus flowers, but native species will do the most good for all kinds of wildlife.
Do Other Types of Wildlife Like Hibiscus?
The main thing that native plants will do, as mentioned, is provide life for insects, which in turn feed many types of birds like swallows, chickadees, robins, and bluebirds, among others.
But other animals will chew on hibiscus flowers. Common garden culprits like deer, rabbits, squirrels, and groundhogs may all eat hibiscus plants.
Other Flowers To Attract Hummingbirds
Hibiscus is far from the only plant that hummingbirds like. Trumpet vine, cardinal flower, columbine, honeysuckle, and other tubular-shaped flowers all provide nectar for hummingbirds across North America.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Else Is Hibiscus Called?
You may have noticed the name rose mallow pop up a couple of times in this article already. Hibiscus is sometimes called rose mallow or rosemallow, as well as hardy hibiscus, tropical hibiscus, and more.
Individually, there are hundreds of hibiscus species, many of which have multiple names.
Can You Put Hibiscus in a Hummingbird Feeder?
While hummingbirds love to drink the sweet nectar from hibiscus flowers, hummingbird feeders are best left to just sugar water. No other sweeteners or flavors should be added.
To make your own hummingbird food, simply mix one part white sugar with four parts water. Honey, vanilla, brown sugar, or any other sweeteners that humans love should not be added to hummingbird food.
Hibiscus plants are a favorite flower of gardeners, and these plants are also a great food source for hummingbirds and other pollinators in your backyard.
Multiple native species thrive across the eastern United States and the dry American Southwest, where they grow in a variety of colors, climates, and environments. So, next time you’re thinking about what flower you want to plant in your flower beds, hibiscus might be a great choice for both you and the birds.