Red birds in a tree: a feast for the eyes (and the birds)

Scrophularia macrantha Plant Select

Red birds in a tree is a hummingbird’s delight. The hovering birds are attracted to the luscious cherry-red tubular flowers that sit atop dark green, ovate, toothed leaves. Just look at the flower and you will see how it earned its descriptive name.

A relative of the penstemon, Scrophularia macrantha flowers continuously from spring through fall. The plant does not need much TLC and will re-bloom without deadheading. Vibrant color will illuminate your garden all summer long. Once established, it requires little water and is suitable for xeriscaping. The plant originates from the mountain slopes of New Mexico and adapts quite well to anywhere in your landscape that offers full sun to part shade. Red Birds in a Tree likes to entwine with other plants for support and will grow best in the back of a border.

This showy variety combines attractively with other Plant Select® selections including: SUNSET® Hyssop (Agastache rupestris) or SONORAN SUNSET® Hyssop (A. cana ‘Sinning’), ORANGE CARPET® Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii) and the two Salvia greggii, Furman’s Red and Wild Thing Sage. You will be inviting hummingbirds to a smorgasbord of nectar. The real treat will be watching them feast in the flowers. Red Birds in a Tree is an absolute must for your garden this year. See the video here.

View the plant profile here.

Red Birds in a Tree (Scrophularia macrantha)
Height: 24-36 inches
Width: 16-20 inches
Blooms: May to frost
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Moisture: Moderate to dry
Hardiness: USDA zones 4-9
Culture: Clay, loam or sandy soil

Thanks to Heather Winokur, Gulley Greenhouse & Garden Center, for writing this piece.

56 responses to “Red birds in a tree: a feast for the eyes (and the birds)”

  1. Barb says:

    I love this plant/shrub! It’s been in 5 years and is huge. I cut it down every year like other perennials and up it comes. It blooms from June through frost. I do dead head it when it gets leggy. The hummingbirds love it!

  2. Jennifer L says:

    I live in the western foothills of Denver. I have 4 of these in my hummingbird garden along with some red-flowering sage, yarrow, maltese cross, etc. The hummers love Red Birds in a Tree so much they ignore everything else. This plant has indeterminately flowering racemes which just get longer all summer and continue flowering so it is zero maintenance (no dead-heading). These are by far my favorite plants in the yard.

  3. Elise Storey says:

    I need to replace a Russian Sage because of the bees. Would this plant be a good choice?

    • Pat Hayward says:

      Probably not if you’re looking for that really showy look that Russian sage offers. Red Birds is a bit more “sophisticated” for better lack of a word. It is best appreciated closer up than the sage. How about Vermilion Bluffs Mexican? Or some of the agastaches? They offer a lot more bang per plant. Red Bird, though, is an absolutely beautiful plant with strikingly interesting flowers, but doesn’t put on the massive display that Russian Sage does. Bees and butterflies will be attracted to all of these, but not to the extent that Russian sage is. And for goodness’ sake, do NOT substitute blue mist spirea (Caryopteris) if you’re trying to reduce exposure to bees- it’s a total bee magnet!

      • Treva Mayo says:

        I have discovered the importance of having bees and wasps in my garden as I am pesticide free they do a job I did not realize as they seem to eat the harmful bugs. I do not have a reaction to bee or wasp stings so I do not bother them and I enjoy my Russian Sages very much. I have one Red Bird in a Bush plant that I have had for 3 years. This year it developed yellow leaves in the center of the plant. one steam at a time would wilt. It bloomed but not like it did last years. Can anyone help with this problem it also gets light-colored spots on the leaves?

      • Rhonda Chesnutt says:

        I disagree with saying this is not a showy a plant. I have 5 of these growing in container pot on my deck in Denver/Arvada (5b). They have come back every year for the past 5 years, maybe longer. In late summer these are some of the showiest flowers in my garden. Little red flowers everywhere filled with hummingbirds fighting over them. I move a couple of these containers right up next to my windows and the hummingbird spend lots of time just looking inside the house to see what is going on. What could possibly be more showy than this? And believe it or not, at least 3 of these have come up by themselves from seeds that I never planted. These are by far the favorite plant I have in my container garden, which has over 50 containers full of flowers of all time.

  4. Courtney says:

    Love this so much! I accidentally planted one in the front of my garden last fall and I want to move it further back. Do you think I can safely transplant it? Any suggestions on how?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      I think Red Birds in a tree is one of Plant Select’s best released plants. It does exactly this- Surprises you! When I planted one, I never thought I could love a flower so small. Within the first year I fell in love with it! It’s tougher and longer living than one might expect. Hours of enjoyment watching the humming birds and sphinx moths visiting the flowers. To answer your question, yes I think you can transplant this plant, because it is recently planted and not well rooted in. Just be sure to get a large root ball on it and don’t let it dry out in this heat. You will probably not see any more flowers on it for the rest of the year. A better time to move it would be next spring.

  5. Mireille Brisson says:

    Is it possible to divide that plant ?

  6. Tammy says:

    Where can I get seeds or root from this? Beautiful!

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      I have not seen any seed packets for sale. However if you have a friend who has this plant, you can collect them there. But why work and wait that long to enjoy the plant? I’ve seen these plants in quart size containers in spring for $6-$8 dollars. With Labor Day fast approaching, you might find these plants on sale in gallons for those prices. They would survive just fine planted in the fall from a container. Happy gardening!

  7. Sharon Markey says:

    I live in the Seattle area. Is it ok to plant this plant in the fall, or should I wait till spring? Often times I don’t have luck with southwestern plants if I plant them in the fall – it’s too wet, and the winter is too long. Is Redbirds in a tree a more flexible plant?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Definitely wait until spring and you’ll have more success. They do love well drained soil and lots of sun. It’s great that you know what all those southwestern plants prefer.

  8. Gloria Johnson says:

    Where can you purchase these plants?

  9. Debra says:

    Can you buy red bird locally and where I’ve never bought through the mail

  10. Jean Anderson says:

    How would a plant from the southwesr (dry) do in the Mid-Atlantic area (humid summers-cole damp winters) Also I have a heavy clay soil in most area of my property in Delaware.

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      The clay shouldn’t be a problem for you if you plant this plant on a slope where the water will run off or drain. If the roots sit in a puddle, it will rot out. Place it in the sunniest and hottest spot you can and you should have success with it.

  11. Karelisa Smith says:

    Can they grow above 9000’

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      This plant comes from an elevation on Cookes Peak in New Mexico around 7000′. I think it would grow at 9000′ plus, but will stay much shorter. Be sure to put it in the sunniest, hottest spot that is not snow packed all winter. Let us know how it goes!

  12. Jackie says:

    I have called so many nurseries in and around Spokane Washington. I really want this plant and no one has it!! They haven’t even heard of it. Does anyone know which on-line retailers sell high quality plants? Thank you!

  13. Chris says:

    Just planted 2 and they are both shriveling up. It has been over 90 each day, so not sure if it is because they are too hot or because they are getting too much water. Any ideas?

  14. Sandra says:

    I have had a Redbird in a Tree plant for more than 5 years, and it only bloomed the first year. Is there anything I can do to stimulate blooms?

  15. Laurie says:

    Redbirds are listed as not deer resistant. I’ve had mine for 5 years and absolutely NO deer damage! I have lots of deer damage on other resistant varieties. I recently transplanted a seedling in extremely hot dry weather. It shriveled up badly but came back when the weather cooled (below 90). I love this plant!

  16. Terry fox says:

    Where can you buy the plants or the seeds

  17. Gary Maly says:

    FYI. The 2019 Kelly Nurseries Catalog has the Red Birds In a Tree for $9.99
    That is the reason I found this site. Thanks for the testimonials. The stats say hardy zones 4-9. We just North if Cincinnatti, Zone 6 and love the hummers.
    I ordered 2.

  18. Barbara Belt says:

    Interested in the Red bird in a tree plant for my new garden. However, rather confused about it. The Botanical Gardens states it can get up to 6 ft tall. Plant Select states 36 inches tall.
    Who is right?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      There more than one plant named Red Bird. The scrophularia macrantha on our website at most get’s 3′ tall. The Caesalpinia pulcherrima plant that is what you probably saw does get 6′ tall. Enjoy our Red Bird in a Tree!

  19. Raquel says:

    This is the second Colorado summer I’ve had my plant and it’s grown like mad. But just now—end of August—the plant is drying up. The long stems are shriveling and dry. Don’t know what is causing this. I’m worried it will die off completely at this rate. Suggestions on how to salvage it? I don’t recall it doing this last fall.

  20. Pat Outland says:

    I planted 3 small plants 2 years ago and this year they are huge. I had forgotten about them — I kept thinking that I did not order anything red this year. And then the hummers came — what a thrill — a few minutes on the rose of sharon (lilac and red) and then to the redbirds. I am worried about the lack of water this year so we water in more than usual. Our house is in Bath County Va n a hollow so we get later springs and more cold than the surrounding homes. It is so wonderful to have this unexpected success (so far). Last year we lost our lavender (Phenomenal) and butterfly shrubs because it never stopped raining. Deer do not touch them so far.

  21. Sandra Kelley says:

    Will this grow in East Tn?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Yes, it should on well-drained sloped areas with full sun. After it’s established, stop watering it. Not sure how it will respond in the humidity, so let us know!

  22. Josh says:

    I really like this plant and think it would be great to have a few to go with my 24 kniphofia the hummingbirds love. I’m just worried because everything I read says they like to intermingle with other plants for support. I have a bunch of allium globemaster, do you think they’d be good together, the allium are very tall and sturdy. But I wouldn’t want the RBT to shade the allium foliage too much. It’s a very sunny area and the allium give me huge long purple blooms, I wouldn’t want to upset that. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Thank you kindly.

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      RBT will go great with those plants! Reduce your watering and they will stay more turgid and not need the support of those other plants. Beautiful plant combo. Enjoy!

  23. Kathie says:

    I had problems last summer and again this year with the lower leaves wilting, then turning brown and drying up.
    The top of the RBT look fine.

    Any ideas?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      The plant is responding to the increase in heat. It’s a natural response many plants exhibit to conserve energy. They drop the lower or inner leaves instead of spending energy on them around this time of year. The plant should be fine. If you have a Fernbush, you’ll see the same thing happening soon too.

  24. Julie Householder says:

    A large stem broke off my RBT . Is it possible to start new plants from cuttings off of the of the main stem?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)