At the recent Botanical Society Plant Fair held in Durban, a countdown of the top 10 indigenous bird-attracting plants was broadcast over the public address system. It went something like this:
Coming in at number 10 – Halleria lucida (wild tree fuchsia) – tubular flowers attract nectar feeders in winter and black fruit are fed upon in spring and summer. Small to medium sized, multi-branched evergreen tree.
Number 9 – Strelitzia nicolai (wild banana) – the large blue and white flowers are filled with nectar and the black and orange seeds are feasted upon by fruit eating birds. Large clump forming plants with banana-like leaves.
Number 8 – Panicum grass – attracts copious amounts of seed eating birds. Clump forming veld grass.
Number 7 – Acacia species (thorn trees) – have recently been reclassified into two new genera. African acacias are now either a Senegalia or a Vachellia, depending on the structure of their thorns. Australian acacias remain with their name unchanged. Birds feed on leaves, flowers and seeds. Used for nesting. Small to large deciduous trees with small compound leaves.
Number 6 – Kiggelaria africana (wild peach) – sticky fruit attracts many birds to the garden during late summer and autumn. Small to medium sized evergreen tree.
Number 5 – Trema orientalis (pigeonwood) – small black fruit borne in bunches on very short stalks from February to November. Attract birds and fruit bats. Quick growing small to medium sized deciduous tree.
Number 4 – Searsia species (wild currants) – previously called Rhus this is another well known group of indigenous trees that have had their genus changed recently. Also known a karee trees the small currant or raisin-like fruit and seeds attract numerous bird types. Small to large evergreen trees and shrubs.
Number 3 – Erythrina species (coral trees) – these trees light up the landscape in late winter and early spring with their scarlet, red and orange flowers. These are rich in nectar and revered by many bird species including many omnivores. Small to large deciduous trees.
Number 2 – Aloe species – bloom through the dry, harsh winter months providing food to a wide array of bird species. They feed on nectar and the blooms themselves. Small to large succulents.
And the top bird attracting plant at Number 1 – Ficus species (wild figs)– relished by fruit eating birds and many insect eaters that prey on the insects attracted to the fruit. Huge deciduous or evergreen trees that need masses of space for their invasive root systems and large canopy of branches.