Story and photo by Derek Doeffinger
My normal role in our garden alternates between servant and inadvertent saboteur (what can I say, baby irises look like crabgrass to me). Once in a while my ignorance actually proves useful. So was the case when I surreptitiously planted a new (to us) flower this spring.
And it quickly proved its worth. In a garden full of phlox, bee balm, cone flowers, crocosmia, butterfly bush and other favorites of nectar lovers, my Mexican sunflowers have become the garden’s go-to cafeteria. You experienced butterfly gardeners probably know all about it. But despite the many varieties of sunflowers we’ve planted over the years, this is our first year planting the Mexican variety.
And it quickly moved up the nectar-tasting charts to No. 1. Monarchs especially love it. At a glance the flower resembles a zinnia. But it easily grows to five feet. It’s a bit bushy, so it takes up a lot of space. Best of all, it requires little care and is deer resistant.
Now I’m entertained by battling monarchs who want its sweet nectar all for themselves. Instead of posing on a flower for a sip and a photograph they zip around the garden looking to challenge and chase away each other. They often engage in aerial combat, sometimes spiraling upwards around each other for five or six feet, creating a tiny butterfly tornado.
Equally fond of nectar-rich blossoms are the hummingbirds. During the recent spell of heavy rains, I glanced out the window at the twilight downpour and spotted a hummingbird zipping about each blossom for a late snack to get it through the night.