Red Birds in a Tree - a native 'must-have' Email
Written by Colorado Green NOW   
Wednesday, November 09, 2022 03:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Red Birds in a Tree - a native 'must-have' 

Red Birds in a Tree (Scrophularia macrantha) is one of the most beloved North American native plants by gardeners across the nation. How do we know? Just google “Red Birds in” and you will see how many nurseries sell this plant, which is actually very rare in nature. Plant Select and High Country Gardens brought this plant into cultivation in the early 2000s, which may have saved it from becoming listed as endangered due to climate change and mining. Prominent plantsman David Salman, appropriately named this figwort Red Birds in a Tree. One look at the flowers, and you’ll see the joyfully singing red birds and you’ll never forget its descriptive common name.  
Red Birds in a Tree is native to the Sky Islands – mountains surrounded by deserts – of New Mexico in only three counties, more specifically in the mountains of the Mimbres Mountains, Kneeling Nun and Cook's Peak. It grows on steep, rocky, usually north-facing igneous cliffs and talus slopes, and in montane coniferous forests. Early botanists called this plant Mimbres figwort because of its location. Red Birds in a Tree is one of the few species of Scrophularia with red flowers. Most “scrophs” have terminal clusters of small greenish brown to purplish-brown flowers that wouldn’t stand out in a garden setting. And here’s some trivia. The genus name Scrophularia comes from scrofula, a form of tuberculosis. In the past, several species of figworts were used in herbal medicine to treat this disease.

Gardening with this drought tolerant plant is pure joy; so easy and so attractive. Hummingbirds flock to it when in bloom, which is from June until frost. It is xeric after established and will thrive for almost 10 years. In nature, this plant only grows to about two feet in height. Honor those native roots by not overwatering, which can make the plant become floppy and shorten its lifespan. Red Birds in a Tree can lightly self-sow, which is desirable. It is easy to transplant when it is small into other open areas of your landscape.  

Red Birds in a Tree is sure to satisfy both gardeners and pollinators. Although flowers are individually small, they are borne in quantity, creating red spires in the landscape. More native plants like Red Birds in a Tree are what this world needs in cultivation! 

See the entire article with photos in the Nov/Dec issue of Colorado Green.

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