Native Plants for Birds

To help you create bird friendly habitat in your landscape, we are sharing a native plant every month that is beneficial to birds and pollinators.

This month's plant is:

Spanish Needle or Common Beggar’s Tick (Bidens Alba)

Spanish Needle IMG 20190831 082303To most gardeners in the United States, this plant is a pesky weed – invasive, ugly and something to be uprooted immediately. But to butterflies and bees, it is the most attractive plant in the garden. In Florida, it is one of the top three nectar-producing plants and therefore beloved by bees and beekeepers alike! It lures multitudes of butterflies, including: Julias, Ruddy dagger-wings, Monarchs , American Painted Ladies, Common Buckeyes. It is the host plant for the Dainty Sulphur butterfly.

In other parts of the world where it grows, including Africa, South America, Jamaica, and Asia, it is beloved and used to make herbal tea. It has multiple other uses as well. The plant alleviates rashes, itching, and other skin issues. The leaves can be crushed to produce a sap used on cuts to aid in blood clotting. The leaves can be cooked like collards, while the raw flower petals make a beautiful salad topping. Please note that if you are going to experiment with eating it, please make sure it has not come from an area sprayed with pesticides or herbicides (which shouldn’t be used anyway if you want to attract bees and butterflies).

Spanish Needle grows to a height of 2-3 feet in full sun but will grow in partially shaded sites as well. The flowers are aster like with several ½” white rays and yellow centers, blooming all year. You can easily grow it from seed since one plant can produce 3,000 to 6,000 seeds that are dispersed by wind and water but most often become attached to fur or clothing. However, if you have it in your garden or yard already, please leave it there and enjoy an inexpensive way to attract bees and butterflies or something for your salad!

For additional information on native plants for birds, check out Audubon's excellent Plants for Birds website:

For local sources of native plants, check with the Ixia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant SocietyThey often have native plants as well as cuttings available at their monthly meetings on the first Tuesday of each month. Check out their Events Calendar for all of their upcoming activities.

--Jody Willis, President, Duval Audubon Society