Flame Acanthus Keeps Hummers Happy in Drought

Oh, this Southern drought. My home state of Texas is in serious trouble. It’s something awful, but lessons are being learned by many a gardener — native plants are handling it much better than those originating in other regions. Still, native plants themselves have had to hunker down to withstand the blazing sun and lack of water. Blooms are scarce, and some plants have gone dormant in order to survive until rain comes. Absent nectar and pollen, as well as plants that just plain don’t make it, mean a loss of food sources for insects, and the resulting decline in insects is having a direct effect on the survivability of other wildlife. Missing blooms and pollinators also means less seed production, resulting in low reproduction rates for plant species, and seed-eating animals are also faced with potential starvation.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. We’re really getting to see what plants are toughest in the toughest of times. Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) is one of them. It’s a Southern native, but it’s actually producing blooms right now despite nary a drop of water coming its way. And that’s good news for hummingbirds, because Flame Acanthus is one of their favorites as they pass through Texas on their way to Central America and South America.

Flame Acanthus is a shrub that can grow to 3-5 feet tall. It can tolerate some shade, but it blooms best with plenty of sunlight. When conditions are favorable, it will make little seedlings that you can share with others. Plant it with plenty of room, because it is a fast-grower, adaptable to many a soil type. But this Southern beauty is destined to stay Southern — cold winters will make it die to the ground, and the farther north you go — well, you know….

The lesson to be learned, though, is that whatever your region, you’ve got plants that are meant to be there and can handle whatever extreme weather your region gets. Find them, plant them, love them — and love the wildlife that will love your garden!

By the way, did I mention that Flame Acanthus is a caterpillar host plant? Crimson Patch and Texan Crescent butterflies seek out this plant in order to lay their eggs. I just adore Flame Acanthus!

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Comments

  1. says

    Meredith this is so true. As I looked around my garden this summer with the drought, I saw mostly natives blooming and have assessed what I need to replace with natives. So much more wildlife has visited my native plants this year too..
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Success

  2. says

    Meredith, I’m jealous of your pretty Texas endemic plant (but not of your continuing drought). I know earlier in the season I was so worried about our arid weather, but as is usually the case, Florida rains came back with a bang and now the once nearly parched pond is out of the banks. I will pray that the heavens open up over TX soon! The TX natives sure are lucky to have such a versatile plant!
    Loret T. Setters recently posted..Tribute to a Great Friend

  3. says

    And now our local weather expert is telling us La Nina is a very real possibility next year too, a double-dip. I’m thankful for it right now because we’re getting highs only in the 70’s where last year the temperatures were in the 90’s. But it’s no doubt seriously altering plant growth around the country. Here’s the article about La Nina if anyone is interested: http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/08/fears-of-double-dip.html
    Kelly Brenner recently posted..Wildlife Plants:: Salmonberry

  4. says

    The drought has definitely made it tougher to come up with unique topics to write about — but oh this lack of rain weighs heavily on everyone’s minds down here. I walk outside and there’s almost no wildlife in the wildlife garden, and the plants are just trying to hang on for dear life. The songbirds and hummers are busy, though, due to the supplemental feeders — without those, they’d be struggling like everything else. But my son reported a lizard he saw yesterday, that’s a good sign!
    Meredith O’Reilly recently posted..Woodpecker Wets Its Whistle

    • says

      That connection is exactly what it is all about, David. An ecosystem is more than just the food web connection — it’s the environmental dependence, too. It’s all connected, and you are so right — the choices we make are so critical.

    • says

      I don’t usually see the caterpillars on mine, Jayne, but just on the other side of town, they get ‘em plenty. If they make it to north Austin, they’ll find a welcome habitat waiting for them. Crimson Patch butterflies are beautiful!

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