Top Ten Wildflowers for Birders’ Gardens


It’s an exciting week for those of us who #NurtureNative. May 3-9 is National Wlidflower Week. Saturday is World Migratory Bird Day. And, over the weekend birdwatchers will try to establish a new world record for a single day of birding.

For those interested in birds, Hillsborough County has compiled a list of local sites with additional information on the migratory birds one might expect to see at them. Perhaps not unexpectedly, a number of the migratory birds on these lists eat wildflower seeds and berries, especially during the winter. And of course, during the growing season, wildflowers provide nectar to butterflies, food for caterpillars, and beautify our world.

With so many wildflower options, and in honor of World Migratory Bird Day, we thought we’d narrow the list to our favorite “top ten” plants that provide edible seeds or berries for our feathered friends. The plants that made our list are:

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

This is a staff favorite, with showy clusters of pink flowers in the spring and bright purple fruit throughout the fall and winter. A favorite of orioles, wood warblers, and waxwings, this is a surefire winner that grows in partial shade.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta var. Floridana)

These yellow wildflowers grow 2-3 feet tall and produce beautiful yellow flowers during our summer and fall. A great companion for Purple Coneflowers and our native grasses, Black-eyed Susan seeds fuel finches and other small birds in the fall and early winter.

Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

This vine blooms for months throughout our spring, summer, and early fall with coral or scarlet trumpet-like flowers. The flowers attract hummingbirds (as well as butterflies) during the blooming season. Once the blooms are spent, the plant’s red berries attract waxwings, orioles, cardinals, and other migrating songbirds.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Gorgeous clusters of white flowers in the spring, graceful – almost lacy leaves – and beautiful dark purple (almost black) berries, this shrub can fuel migrating birds’ long-distance journeys, or provide a feast for those stopping here for the winter.

Elliott’s Aster (Symphyotrichum elliottii)

This long-lived perennial has lavender flowers with disc-like centers that change color from yellow to a purple-red. Not for small gardens (the plant spreads by rhizomes and can form thickets), the plant produces thousands of seeds in late fall – just in time for migrating birds looking for fuel.

Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)

With tall clusters of tiny yellow flowers in late summer and early fall, goldenrods produce lots of seeds just in time for birds migrating through the area. It’s a favorite of thrushes, waxwings, vireos, wood warblers, cardinals, and chickadees, and titmice.

Ironweeds (Vernonia spp.)

Ironweeds have numerous, small bright fuchsia flowers that remind us of tiny paper snowflakes. With a single plant able to produce hundreds of flowers and thousands of seeds, this plant belongs in every birder’s garden.

Maypop passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

As you might guess from the name, showy purple flowers “pop” on this native vine during the month of May. Chickadees, waxwings, finches, cardinals, and vireos love to eat the plant’s fruits.

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflower’s strong stems are strong enough to support perching finches, sparrows, indigo buntings, cardinals and chickadees, all of which will eat the flower’s seeds.

Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.)

We’ve written previously about our always cheerful Coreopsis. These daisy-like yellow flowers produce hundreds of seeds per plant and can attract a whole range of birds that include Cardinals and Grosbeaks, Chickadees and Titmice.

Why not try a few of these wildflowers in your garden to #NurtureNative? I bet you’ll see that it makes a difference for our feathered friends!