Gardening for birds: 5. Shrubs

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In a bird garden LINK, fig trees attract the most birds LINK, with selected trees also playing important roles LINK. To attract nectar feeders, there is a need to grow plants whose flowers produce copious nectar LINK. Shrubs, planted below the trees, play their part in providing ground cover as well as food for birds. Below is a list of shrubs, by not means exhaustive, that will enhance the bird garden.

1. Simpoh air (Dillenia suffruticosa) is a shrub that can develop into a thicket. It’s large leaves and prominent large yellow flowers make it distinctive. Fruits are attractive when they open up to display the red seeds in the early morning, attracting parakeets LINK as well as pigeons, bulbuls and sunbirds feast on the seeds LINK. Green pigeons LINK and parakeets have been observed feasting on the petals, flower buds and developing fruits.

2. Golden dewdrop (Duranta erecta) is a creeping shrub with slender drooping branches (below left). The fruits are globose, bright orange, thus the common name. Native to tropical America, it is commonly cultivated.

3. Hairy clidemia (Clidemis hirta) can grow into a large shrub (above centre). As the common name indicates, the plant is very hairy, especially the leaves. Native to South America, it has become a common weed along the wayside and forest edge. The round black berries are an attraction to birds

4. String bush (Cordia cylindristachys) is a bushy shrub once native to tropical America (above right). It was introduced as a hedge plant and commonly grown before the 1960s, It slowly disappeared from the scene when the beetle Schematiza cordiae was introduced into the country.

5. Ixoras (Ixora spp.) are shrubby ornamentals grown for the flowers or even as a hedge. There are a number of species and hybrids to choose from. Birds do flock to these plants to forage for insects LINK. However, there is almost no information about what species of birds are attracted to these plants other than the sparrow.

6. Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is a popular ornamental sometimes grown as a hedge plant. The large attractive flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds in its native countries. Here, we get sunbirds stealing nectar by probing at the base of the flowers as their bills are not adapted for probing nectar from the top of the flowers LINK.

7. Turk’s turban (Malvaviscus arboreus) is a shrub looking like hibiscus. However the flowers are different in that the petals do not unfold, with the stamen tube sticking out prominently. Frequently visited by sunbirds LINK.

8. Lantana (Lantana camara) is a shrub from tropical America that is now growing wild in wastelands (below left). The plant may be somewhat prickly or not and pungent scented. Free flowering, the flowering heads are made up of orange, pink, red or variegated flowers. Fruits attract birds.

9. Giant milkweed (Calotropis gigantea) is a shrub that can grow into a small tree (above centre). Native to India and the Malay Islands, it is sometimes cultivated in rural areas. Flowers attract sunbirds.

10. Peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is a free flowering shrub whose red or yellow flowers bring colours to the garden (above right). A common ornamental, the flowers attract nectivorous birds.

11. Philippine tea tree (Carmona retusa) is a shrub with long straggling branches. Native to East Asia, it has become naturalised to the region. Once grown as a hedge plant, it can be used for training as bonsai. The fruits attract birds like white-eyes LINK.

12. Wild banana (Musa ornate) is a large herbaceous herb with upright inflorescence that bears attractive pinkish flowers. Spiderhunters often visit to harvest the nectar LINK.

YC Wee
Singapore
October 2011

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