Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day.
Tough Plants that Flower Into Fall — And Provide Bird Seed Too
By the time late summer arrives, many gardens and landscapes look a little tired, with few plants flowering. But there’s one group of plants native to the Rocky Mountain region that holds forth with blooms up to and beyond the first snows: Composites, wildflowers and shrubs in the Aster or Daisy family.
(What appears to be one flower in these plants is actually a “composite,” a head composed of many flowers. Each petal on a daisy, for instance, is single flowers. The central disk is itself packed full of tiny flowers lacking petals entirely.)
The hundreds species of flowers in this group bloom all season long, but many, like the Rubber Rabbitbrush in the photos above, are the last flowers to bloom at the end of the season, providing not only beauty in the late-season garden, but also food for pollinators when nothing else is available.
After they’re done blooming, the seeds from those composite heads remain on the plant for weeks or months, providing crucial natural food for seed-eating songbirds including goldfinches, House and Purple finches, sparrows, juncos, redpolls and siskins.
A Few Favorite Composites
In addition to Rubber Rabbitbrush, a tough and drought-hardy native shrub that can be as tall as five or more feet, or stay small and tidy in form like Plant Select®’s Baby Blue variety, what other composites bloom late and provide a reliable food source? Here are a few favorites of the many, many species:
Tansyleaf Aster or Tahoka Daisy (Machaeranthera tanicetifolia)
A small drift-forming annual or short-lived perennial with purple flowers that bloom from mid-summer until the first snows. Tansyleaf aster attracts butterflies, small native bees and pollinating beetles, and its billowy seed heads feed smaller birds including juncos, siskins and sparrows.
Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)
The curious extended “cone” of Mexican Hat flower heads with their fringe of yellow or mahogany ray flowers is charming in the garden and attracts butterflies in summer. When the flowers dry out, seed-eating birds—especially siskins—pry out the papery seeds. Best for meadow or prairie plantings, these Southern Plains natives are self-seeders.
Showy Goldeneye (Viguera or Heliomeris multiflora)
Looking like miniature sunflowers on thread-like stems, Showy Goldeneye’s lemon yellow flower heads stand out in prairie or meadow plantings. Small butterflies, especially checkerspots and blues, often nectar on these smaller-statured composites. Like their much larger sunflower cousins, Showy Goldeneye seeds are in demand by siskins, goldfinches and other narrow-beaked seed eating birds.
Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
And of course, the common sunflower, an annual that is the easiest to grow of any of our native composites. Its flowers attract native bees and honeybees by the score (the appropriately named sunflower bee is a native bee that specializes in sunflowers) and whose densely packed heads of nutritious seeds act as natural bird-feeders.
Add some late-season composites to your garden and reap the harvest in fall blooms, butterflies and other pollinators, and natural bird-feeders!
IT’S TIME TO APPLY FOR THIS YEAR’S HABITAT HERO AWARDS….
Does your garden provide habitat for songbirds and pollinators? Apply today!