Last year I had green rosettes for Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon barbatus), but no blooms. My guess is they died back because of the ten year drought. I got enough rain last year to sprout perennials and most of them returned this year. All the Scarlet Bugler rosettes I saw last year made it through the winter and are blooming.
Besides being beautiful, these flowers bear flashy red tubes that draw hummingbirds. Hummingbirds eat nectar and Scarlet Bugler draws them in.
New Mexico has 17 species of Hummingbirds but when the Rufous Hummingbird comes to town he fights for nectar sources… and usually wins in spite of his tiny size. He shows up about the same time as Scarlet Bugler starts blooming here.
Rufous Hummingbirds migrate in a loop: wintering in Mexico, crossing into California during spring, moving up to the Pacific Northwest/Alaska during summer, and looping down to the Rocky Mountains for fall, just in time for these little migrant workers to return to Mexico for the winter. This route is maybe 8000 miles each year and these tiny migrants can make the loop up to 8 times during their lifetime.
I like to think some of my visitors could have been born in my grandchildren’s garden in Washington state. They breed in the Seattle area, for sure, and they (or their cousins) visit here for a few weeks before heading over the border into Mexico.
One of their main (free to me) tasks is the endless numbers of insects they eat for protein and fat. These tiny beauties can clean out an aphid infestation in no time.
They also need constant nectar for energy. I prefer the beauty of Scarlet Bugler to attract Hummingbirds, but if you like filling the feeders for them…. more power to you. The demands of my job in the market economy has me get behind in chores at times, so I prefer self-maintaining Hummingbird feeders like Scarlet Bugler. Toss out seed and enjoy the show is my motto.
I have read that Scarlet Bugler is of value to feed native bees. For that alone it is worth planting. Add in astonishing beauty, no maintenance, hummingbird attraction, and I call them amazing workhorses in the circular economy, pinyon-juniper food forest style.
Can’t leave out how fun it is to watch Hummingbirds in the garden. A favorite with children of any age.