From the Romans to the ancient Egyptians, verbena has been believed to carry supernatural and divine properties, and it continues to be used in herbal medicine and essential oils, but does it appeal to hummingbirds in your modern gardens?
What Is Verbena?
Verbena, also called vervain or verveine, is a genus of plants that contains over 100 species native to different parts of the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Verbenaceaefamily has about 75 different genera and 3,000 species of herbs in it. One of those genera is Verbena.
Common vervain/verbena (Verbena officinalis), native to Europe, is most commonly cultivated as an ornamental plant, though across the genus, verbena species are more commonly native to Asia and the Americas.
This means that for those who emphasize native plants in their gardens, verbena can be a great plant for your flower beds, even if it doesn’t prove to be the best possible type of flower for attracting hummingbirds.
Do Hummingbirds Like It?
Hummingbirds are one type of pollinator that will visit verbena as one of its potential food choices, along with bees and hummingbirds.
Verbena contains many small, usually purple flowers. They don’t have the classic long tubular flowers that hummingbirds are known to love, but their individual florets are actually quite tubular, though small.
Hummingbird preferences will vary from region to region and even from garden to garden based on what’s closest to their nests, what supply of food is available, and cover from predators.
In some gardens, it may become a hummingbird favorite, whereas other gardeners and birders will find it’s passed over in favor of other flowers.
Verbena certainly has a place in the garden of wildlife lovers and ornamental gardeners.
What About Other Wildlife?
It’s not just hummingbirds that may potentially flock to verbena plants. Other pollinators like butterflies and bees will often stop at these multi-floreted flowers, along with other birds like goldfinches that may visit to eat their seeds.
As for deer, the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station rates Verbena as “seldom severely damaged” by deer, a “B” on a scale of A to D, with D being “frequently severely damaged,” though that certainly doesn’t mean deer, rabbits, and other mammals won’t dine on the flowers and green foliage of your verbena plants from time to time.
Benefits of Native Plants and Native Verbena Species
If you’ve read any other articles about plants that I’ve written for this site, you know that I can’t wrap up the article without mentioning the benefits of native plants for wildlife.
Having co-evolved alongside wildlife for thousands of years, native plants support so many more species than non-native species. Non-native plants, including trees, flowers, and shrubs, fail to support the diversity of insect life that in turn support a backyard full of birds, including insect-eating hummingbirds.
According to the National Audubon Society, a chickadee pair requires between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars in one season to raise a brood of five chickadees, and research has shown that feasting from native trees and plants may be the only way to get there.
The same Audubon Society article states that native oaks can support upwards of 550 species of moths and butterflies, while research from Entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown non-native trees may support single-digit species species.
Natives also generally require less maintenance and help conserve water.
With all of this in mind, here are some of the United States and Canada’s native verbena species for your consideration, though there are surely others as well.
Swamp verbena (Verbena hastata): Also called American blue vervain and other names, swamp verbena is one of the most common verbena species on the North American continent.
This blue-purple flowering plant grows mainly in the Midwest and sporadically eastward, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Bracted verbena (Verbena bracteata): With tiny, sporadic flowers, bracted verbena isn’t likely to be a hummingbird hotspot, but as a native plant, it can still help wildlife on your property.
Rose verbena (Verbena canadensis): This rose-colored verbena has much larger, impressive flowers than the bracted verbena does. It’s native to the eastern and southern United States.
Southwestern mock vervain (Glandularia gooddingii): Not actually a member of the Verbena genus, southwestern mock vervain is a member of the Verbenaceae family native to the American Southwest and Mexico where it thrives in desert landscapes.
Texas verbena (Verbena halei): As its common name implies, Texas verbena is native to Texas, though it can be found across much of the southern United States.
Western vervain (Verbena lasiostachys): Another verbena species with an accurate name, western vervain grows from the Pacific Northwest down to western Mexico.
Hoary verbena (Verbena stricta): Hoary verbena’s purple flower spikes are familiar in prairies and meadows across much of the interior United States from the eastern Rockies to the Great Plains and Midwest.
Prairie Nursery states that it will attract pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies while remaining pretty deer-resistant. While it’s a classic in wild flowering areas, it can also add some height and natural benefits to your artificial garden beds.
Prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida): Another native to the central United States, prairie verbena is not in the Verbena genus, but it does grow large, purple blooms. These flower clusters can certainly be attractive to hummingbirds looking for multiple nectar sources.
How To Grow Verbena
As the list above shows, different verbena plants will grow best in different light amounts, soil types, and moisture levels, among the numerous variables that come with gardening.
What is best for a Midwestern hoary verbena plant is not likely to help a southwestern mock vervain that’s used to the rocky, dry terrain of Arizona or a common vervain, a non-native plant that’s commonly grown in gardens across the world.
Before starting to grow any plant, be sure to do a quick dive online or into a gardening book to find out how to best serve that plant in your garden.
Verbena is a great choice for flower gardens, especially if you plant a native species like some of those mentioned in this article. There are certainly other varieties – native and non-native – you can choose from that we did not mention in this article.
Native verbena species can benefit both hummingbirds and other wildlife that feed on the plants and insects that live in your backyard ecosystem, all while growing attractive flowers for your gardens.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Verbena?
The Verbenaceae family contains thousands of species, including many in the Verbena genus. These flowering plants vary in how they flower, where they grow, and more.
Of them, common verbena (Verbena officinalis) is one of the most commonly cultivated. It’s native to Europe, but many verbena species are native across the Americas.
What Is the Most Common Verbena Species?
Common verbena, as its name implies, is the most common verbena species across the world. It’s cultivated as a popular variety of garden plant in many places, including North America.
What Other Flowers Are Hummingbirds’ Favorites?
Without naming every flowering plant that hummingbirds commonly visit, birdwatchers generally agree that tubular, nectar-rich flowers are great for attracting hummingbirds, and they have increased sensitivity to the flower colors red, pink, orange, and yellow.
Some of the bright flowers that fit the bill include honeysuckle, cardinal flower, bee balm, fire pink, wild bergamot, and others. There are so many native flowers you can grow to attract hummingbirds to your property.