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)
Perennial
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.

83 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!

    • Debra says:

      Barb you said you cut it down every year do you have to cut it down did you cut it down after the first year you planted them

      • Kelly says:

        I would also like to know if you cut it the first year? Mine came back but no flowers yet, 14”, didn’t cut back yet this year. Help

  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?
    Thanks

    • 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!

      • Janet says:

        I live in E Tennessee. I bought 4 of these last fall online and planted. This spring, none of them came up. Looking for more but unable to find them. Would love to know where you are seeing them.

        • Ross Shrigley says:

          Might be too wet for them if they are planted on flat ground. They need well-drained soil for your amount of rainfall and full hot sun. They may not like the humidity.

        • Helene says:

          Is it possible you pulled it out thinking it was a weed? I planted one last year and was disappointed to not see it this spring. Later in the spring noticed some tall plants in the garden that I thought were weeds. I put off my weeding and was glad I did because they turned out to be Red Birds!

      • Annette says:

        I found mine from Burgess catalog

  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?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Unfortunately not. I don’t think deadheading them will extend their bloom time.

      • Toni says:

        I got a red bird in a tree this spring. It’s presently on its second bloom cycle. I love it! Do I need to cut it back in winter? If so, how much should I leave above ground? Thanks.

  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.

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      That is very unusual. Cut the plant back now to promote some new growth. See if that gets it going again and let us know.

  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?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Not likely unless you have a misting system at home. It’s easier to collect seed and spread it around.

  25. Gerry Paris says:

    I live in Northern California, near Sacramento. Will the Red Bird Tree grow here? I have never seen it in nurseries, here.

  26. Linda Wyckoff says:

    I cannot find this plant or seeds anywhere. I’ve tried Plant Select and every place they suggest — nothing. Any other suggestions?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Where are you located? Botany Lane grows them and sells them to retailers. Reach out to them to see where they sell them. It may be that plants are all sold out and retailers are waiting until next year to bring them in again. https://www.botanylane.com/

  27. Morgan says:

    Will RBT do well in Central Florida?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      It will most likely struggle if it does not have well-drained soil, no winter dormancy, or receives too much water. Let us know if you plant it and it does well!

  28. […] like the look of the plant below called Red Birds in a Tree. (By the way, this is one of my favorite plants in my garden. My neighbors always ask about it, and […]

  29. Nancy Romzek says:

    I received to Red Birds in a Tree as gifts. Can I plant them even if we get more frost this spring?

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      If they have not immediately come out of the greenhouse, they should be fine. The might wilt a little in from a cold frost, but the plant won’t die. It’s best to get them into the ground and get them started instead of having to remember to water them for a month.

  30. Kay says:

    I have 3 RBTs, and this will be year 3. Last year all three flourished; as of today, only one is starting to leaf. I wonder if the other two did not make it through the winter, or if it’s still early (May 10 in Santa Fe NM). No nurseries have them for sale (yet?), and I want to replace them…the hummers love them so much! Thanks for any thoughts…

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Orange Carpet Hummingbird trumpet, the hyssops, and salvias will bring in hummingbirds too.

  31. Cindi says:

    I found some seeds last year and sowed the seeds in the fall. I believe what I have is the red birds in a tree seedlings. I have 3 young seedlings in a flower pot. Do they like to be crowded or should I move one of the seedlings and put it in the ground? Can they be grown in a pot?
    I have wanted this plant for years and ordered several from an online place (not mentioning name) and every time I would get it, it would arrive almost dead or dead. So, I was thrilled to find some seeds.
    I am in North Carolina. Any advice you can give will be appreciated.

    Thank you

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      That’s great news about the seedlings. I would plant them back in the ground instead of leaving them in a pot. They would not mind if you planted them close together, but I would try one in a different part of the yard.

      • Cindi Poole says:

        Thank you. I did not put them in the ground yet and I fear it is too late now. Will they do okay if I move them to a flower bed in the fall or should I wait until next spring?

        Thanks again for your knowledge of these great plants.

        • Ross Shrigley says:

          Go ahead and put them in the ground by this summer or fall. They should become established before winter and ready to grow next spring.

  32. Hamer says:

    I have one of these in IL that is doing well and I enjoy it. Will these self seed and spread? I would like to have a few more specimens to plant around the yard.

    Thanks

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      Yes, they can. You might try collecting the seed and then sowing them directly into different areas. Just remember not to accidentally weed them out when they are babies next spring.

  33. Sharon Roe says:

    A friend shared some of hers with me. I am wondering about susceptibility to rabbits and also deer. I saw one comment that deer weren’t a problem for her. Any other deer or rabbit comments would be appreciated. If necessary, I can fence them in. Thanks.

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      I’d fence the plants in if I started to see any evidence of critter foraging. It’s hard to say exactly what and when animals decide to eat one’s plants.

  34. Lauretta says:

    I bought 2 plants last spring. I planted one in the ground and another in a 16″ pot. The both are doing well. I am going to try to collect seed and to propagate a small cutting. I need more of these!

  35. Arnette says:

    How about container growth…and then moved to an unheated porch for winter without rain and/or snow? Occasional water or not? I am in Zone 5/6 in NY with snowy winters.

    • Ross Shrigley says:

      That could actually work. Occasionally winter water if the container is not in a place where it can receive natural precipitation.

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