November 2015

Science Art Exhibit Leads to

Development of a Garden for Hummingbirds
at Stanford University's Green Library

is it?
It is beside Green Library’s East portal. It is bound by two high walls (one of which is glass, offering good viewing from within the library) and by two low walls (offering good viewing from the portal apron). Behind the walls, three liquidambar trees and two newly planted Eastern redbuds provide hummer perching sites. Hummers take a mandatory break when their tiny (.02-ounce capacity) crop, a thin-walled sack that temporarily holds what they swallow, needs draining.
it a
Its supply of ample, reliable nectar sources attracts hummers. As nectar specialists, hummers lap up nectar at a rate of about 13 flicks per second. Feeding bouts might last up to a minute and occur five-14 times per hour. Bottom line? Hummingbird species consume from one-half to eight times their body weight daily. This may require 1,000 blossom visits. The birds are said to remember the visits and how long the flowers take to refill.

Steve Rottenborn (a wildlife ecologist who has studied birds of the San Francisco Bay area since 1992) expects at least three species of hummingbirds to use the garden. Anna’s Hummingbirds (above) will be the most abundant species, occurring there year-round, while Allen’s Hummingbirds will use these flowers in spring and early summer (possibly breeding nearby) and Rufous Hummingbirds will occur there in early spring and fall.

  Blooming schedule:  
to the
Art at Exits
The idea began with the placement of John James Audubon’s print of Anna’s Hummingbirds in Green Library. Stanford University President emeritus, and Science Art-Nature founding board member emeritus Donald Kennedy and I helped bring the Audubon print to Green Library and Haydi Boething Danielson (whose nursery grew most of the gorgeous plants) brought a wealth of plant information to the table.

The Anna’s Hummingbird print hangs on the library’s first floor, near the previously mentioned glass wall overlooking the new garden. The display includes a Science Art caption (brief explanatory text that provides a science lens), so viewers can read about campus hummers and consider issues about their sustainability and then (hopefully!) watch them through the window. It is part of the Art at Exits: Seeing Stanford Species project that has--so far--placed an Audubon bird print near the exits of nine campus buildings that open toward areas the portrayed birds may be seen. The project was supported initially by the Stanford Arts Institute, the Bill Lane Center for the American West and Science Art-Nature, with digital images provided by the National Audubon Society and prints, custom frames and installation provided by VKK Signmakers, Inc. It will grow to include more buildings and more species, if more funding appears.
been studied
Think drones. Mechanical engineering students working on flight dynamics with Assistant Professor David Lentink have found that hummer wings have an edge over micro-helicopter blades when generating lift. Drawing from hummer anatomy is important when designing quadcopters (unmanned helicopters with four rotors) that hover or fly slowly in turbulent air. It is also important in design, in general, where it is thought that approximating hummer wings could improve current functionality by 25 percent.

So, also think biology. Stanford biologist and Science Art-Nature founding board member emeritus, Professor Paul Ehrlich, who developed the Biology of Birds course there in the late 1980s and taught it for decades, is a champion of the garden, noting that it is “another effort trying to make the Stanford University campus bird and birder friendly”.

Darryl Wheye
CEO, Science Art-Nature

The Plant List
In winter through spring, Mahonia lomariifolia (Chinese holly) will bloom. These fernlike evergreen shrubs with spiny sprays that whorl around a central stalk will tolerate partial shade. They produce upright yellow flower clusters and blue berries.
In winter through spring, hybrid Aloe (pink blush aloe) will bloom. These small, fleshy-leafed succulents produce long stems that bear a red flower cluster. They are planted in the swales and will tolerate light shade.

In spring, two Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) will bloom. These trees produce small pink flowers along their branches and trunk before leafing out.

In spring through fall, Tibouchina urvilleana (princess flower) will bloom. These sprawling evergreen shrubs produce five-petaled purple flowers.

In spring through fall, Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine) will bloom. This shrubby, vine-like ground cover will tolerate partial shade and, although not known as a good nectar source, has white flowers. The plants just beyond the perimeter of the hummer garden are star jasmine.
In summer, Lonicera japonica 'Halliana' (Japanese honeysuckle) will bloom. These shrubby semi-evergreen vines require only occasional water and tolerate partial shade. White tubular flowers turn yellow and are followed by berries. Under some conditions, this exotic can become invasive.
In Summer through fall, Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’ (whorled sage) will bloom. These drought-tolerant members of the sage family will tolerate partial shade. They produce spikes of purple flowers that may bloom through fall, if deadheaded.
In summer through fall, Anemone japonica x A. hybrida pink (pink Japanese anemone) will bloom. It will be interesting to see if hummers favor these flowers as nectar sources. It will also be interesting to see if the birds collect the soft fibers of their seedpods for nesting material.
In fall through spring, Tecomaria capensis ‘Tecoma’ (Cape honeysuckle) will bloom. These scrambling evergreen shrubs will tolerate partial shade and produce orange tubular flowers.

Photo Credits:

Juvenile Anna’s Hummingbird ©2011 Johanna van de Woestijne contact
Plant images primarily courtesy of Boething Treeland. See: