Impatiens are some of the most popular flowering plants, but are they good for hummingbirds?
It turns out that Impatiens are excellent for hummingbirds, especially in shady places. But did you know there are many types of Impatiens, including annual, perennial, native, and exotic species?
Let’s find out more about them, and which Impatiens are best to attract hummingbirds.
First of All, What Are Impatiens?
Before we start talking all about hummingbirds and Impatiens, there may be some readers who are not yet familiar with this garden plant.
In truth, even experienced gardeners could get confused about the term. That’s because Impatiens is not just a single species, but a huge genus of flowering plants, containing over 1,000 species from around the world!
The species that most people will be familiar with are the garden varieties and wildflower forms in North America. Some exotic species have even naturalized and are considered invasive.
To make things simpler, we’re going to focus on 4 species: two garden varieties, and two wildflowers.
Garden Impatiens – Bizzy Lizzy and New Guinea Species
The type of Impatiens most people will know best is Impatiens walleriana, aka. ‘Bizzy Lizzy’, ‘ or simply ‘Impatiens’. Originally from East Africa, it’s now the most popular annual bedding plant in the USA today.
Bizzy Lizzy has become a garden favorite due to its robust character and unrivaled abundance of colorful flowers in shady conditions. It can be grown in shady beds, borders, in containers, window boxes, hanging boxes, and even as a houseplant!
Another popular Impatiens species for gardens is Impatiens hawkeri, the New Guinea Impatiens. It shares many of the same virtues as I.Walleriana, except it can tolerate more sun and even drought.
Both species are popular with hummingbirds. We’ll take a closer look at that in a moment.
Wild Flower Impatiens – The Jewelweeds
The most famous Native American wildflowers in the Impatiens family include Impatiens capensis ‘Orange Jewelweed’ or ‘Orange Balsam’, and Impatiens pallida ‘Yellow jewelweed’, or ‘Pale touch-me-not’.
Orange jewelweed is a common annual plant, sometimes considered a weed. Native to the Eastern United States, it typically grows in damp places, besides ditches, creeks, and damp woodlands. Like its garden relatives, it grows well in shady conditions.
Jewelweeds are sometimes called ‘touch me not’ because of their incredible explosive seed pods that can burst open when given the lightest touch. An interesting side note is that foliage of both common species was eaten boiled by Native Americans.
Are Garden Impatiens Good for Hummingbirds?
Impatiens walleriana and hawkeri are perhaps the most prolific flowering plants you can grow in a shady garden. Combine this with their bright range of colors and constant supply of nectar, and you have a good flower for hummingbirds.
But this doesn’t mean that garden Impatiens are the very best plant for hummingbirds! Both popular species have a more shallow flower profile than the native Impatiens, which makes them slightly more difficult for hummingbirds to feed from.
Their popularity with hummingbirds will also depend on their color and where they’re positioned. While deep red Impatiens will be the most popular choice, lavender, white, and multi-colored varieties usually have less appeal.
Because Impatiens walleriana and hawkeri are both such low-growing plants, growing them in hanging baskets or window tubs may also be more alluring to hummingbirds than when grown as ground cover.
Are Native Impatiens Good for Hummingbirds?
Impatiens capensis and Impatiens pallida may be grown far less frequently as garden plants than their exotic relatives, but that doesn’t mean they’re not as good for hummingbirds!
Try a Google image search for ‘Impatiens hummingbirds’ and you’ll find an equal number of hummingbirds feasting upon the native jewelweeds as the garden species.
In contrast to the recently introduced African and Asian Impatiens, hummingbirds would have fed on the native forms for tens of thousands of years. They’ve evolved together, and so may be a better match for each other.
The long, tubular flowers of the native Impatiens are certainly a better shape for hummingbirds to feed from, and some gardeners may also find these delicate, orchid-like flowers extremely beautiful.
If you have a damp, shady corner of the garden, then introducing native Impatiens could be a great way to attract more hummingbirds to your home. Of the two species, Impatiens capensis, or Orange Jewelweed is the better choice because of its brighter orange color – more alluring than the duller yellow Impatiens pallida.
Is Impatiens Invasive?
A concern that some people may have about Impatiens is their potential to become invasive. After all, they’re incredibly prolific plants that can sometimes self-seed around the garden.
Because the garden varieties of Impatiens are from tropical origins, they only grow as annual flowers in all but the warmest parts of North America. In coastal parts of Florida, and especially in Hawaii however, Impatiens walleriana has escaped cultivation and now grows in the wild.
In cooler regions, it will self-seed here and there but presents little threat to temperate ecosystems.
As a slight digression from our four species, a fifth species of Impatiens is worth mentioning here.
Impatiens glandulifera (aka. Himalayan balsam), an introduced hardy Asian plant, is famous for spreading rampantly beside waterways around the world, thereby encroaching upon native species.
Despite its drawbacks, the conical flowers of Himalayan balsam do seem to be popular with hummingbirds.
Other Excellent Plants for Hummingbirds
- Cardinal flowers – The striking red color of the cardinal flower appears to have evolved alongside ruby-throated hummingbirds for the perfect pollination partnership. Find out more here!
- Columbine – Trumpet-shaped, colorful flowers that are rich in sweet nectar. A short-lived plant that will often self-seed around the garden.
- Salvias (true sages) – The violet-blue flower spikes of salvia are magnet pollinators, providing nectar over a long season.
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) – One of the ultimate shrubs for attracting pollinators. Its fragrant flowers offer a subtle honey aroma to passers-by.
- Bee Balm – Bee balm or Monarda is a beautiful member of the mint family. Its bright red tubular flowers can be eaten, and the whole plant can be used for tea.
- Petunia – A popular choice for good reason. Few flowers bloom for as long as petunia. They’re also perfect for hanging baskets.
- Zinnia – Zinnia are brightly colored and grow fairly tall, making them a perfect match for hummingbirds!
To discover even more beautiful flowers that are loved by hummingbirds, check out our dedicated guide to hummingbird plants, here.
Are Flowers or Feeders Better for Hummingbirds?
Of course, another way to attract hummingbirds to your garden is to offer them a hummingbird feeder. But which is better for the birds?
The answer is complex. While hummingbird feeders certainly provide a popular fueling station for these hungry birds, some people argue that hummingbirds have evolved to feed on plant nectar rather than sugar syrup.
On the other hand, many parts of North America are now deprived of the native plants that hummingbirds would have naturally thrived on. The unpredictable weather we’ve seen in recent years only adds to the uncertainty of sufficient nectar sources.
Perhaps the answer is to provide both feeders and vibrant flowers for the hummingbirds, to ensure they always have enough. Whichever way you decide to go, it will never hurt to add some more hummingbird-friendly flowers to your garden to attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.
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Weighing It Up: Is It Good to Plant Impatiens for Hummingbirds?
While there are too many great plants for hummingbirds to mention, all the species of Impatiens that we’ve discussed have a huge advantage over many others. Can you guess what?
That’s right, Impatiens are one of the few flowers that bloom prolifically in the shade. So while it’s a great idea to fill sunnier areas of the backyard up with cardinal flowers, columbine, salvias, and Buddleia, adding Impatiens is a great way to fill up shady areas with hummingbird-friendly flowers, too!
Unless you’re in a tropical location where Impatiens walleriana and hawkeri could become invasive, these two garden species make a great choice for hanging baskets, window boxes, and shady borders.
If you live in an area where Impatiens capensis and Impatiens pallida are native, then collecting some seeds and sowing them in damp, shady parts of the garden could reward you with bountiful visits from ruby-throated hummingbirds, among others.
Besides that, growing native wildflowers is a great way to support local pollinators and invertebrates, which are so important for the well-being of your local ecology.
Both garden varieties and wild species of Impatiens are a great source of nectar for hummingbirds.
Adding these pretty annuals to your garden could greatly improve your chances of attracting hummingbirds to your garden, especially in shady spots where few other flowers would thrive.
To supplement the nectar source from garden flowers, hummingbird feeders can draw in even more hummingbirds to your backyard during poor weather when flowers produce less nectar.