Plants & Gardens Blog

Quiz: Can You Guess the Bird-Related Plant Names?

Bird-named plants is the theme for this summer’s container displays on Spencer Terrace, located in the dining area alongside the conservatories and canteen. There you’ll find plants named after a particular bird species, or a bird’s physical characteristics, curated by gardener Mimi Jorling.

Can you guess the common names for these plants?

1. This desert dweller’s flowers are the perfect shape for a certain bird’s beak.
A cluster of bright red tubular flowers blooms alongside long green narrow leaves.
Photo courtesy of Noel Zinn.

A. Toucan aloe
B. Cardinal yucca
C. Hummingbird yucca

View Answer

The correct answer is C. Hummingbird yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). Native to the deserts of northeastern Mexico and southwestern Texas, this perennial succulent is a member of the Asparagaceae, or asparagus family. Hummingbirds probe the plant’s bright, tubular flowers for nectar. The hummingbird yucca also attracts butterflies.

2. Sometimes referred to as “ponytails,” the wispy strands of this ornamental grass also liken to a bird’s physical attribute.
A mass of wispy light-green strands of grass with blonde tips gently arches sideways.
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Moorehead.

A. Birds’ tails
B. Mexican feathergrass
C. Cockatoo plumes

View Answer

The correct answer is B. Mexican feathergrass (Nasella tenuissima). This ornamental grass is native to Mexico and the southwest United States. Birds eat the seeds and also use the plant’s hairlike strands for nesting material.

3. This native plant is often mistaken for the common blue violet, or Viola sororia. The difference is in their leaves.
A small purple flower with green, deeply palmate leaves blooms alongside a rock.
Photo courtesy of Eric Hunt.

A. Bird’s foot violet
B. Starling pansy
C. Bird’s beak violet

View Answer

The correct answer is A. Bird’s foot violet (Viola petata). This herbaceous perennial is native to the pinelands, sandy prairies, and rocky landscapes of northeastern United States. Its palmately lobed leaves resemble birds’ feet, and its flowers are a source of nectar for the regal fritillary butterfly.

4. This sweet-scented California wildflower’s profuse blooms attract a variety of pollinators, including hummingbirds.
A cluster of light purple flowers with dark blue centers bloom at the tips of green stems.
Photo courtesy of Calohortus.

A. Creeping bluebird
B. Owl’s ears
C. Bird’s eyes

View Answer

The correct answer is C. Bird’s eyes (Gilia tricolor). A member of the Polemniaceae, or phlox family, this annual wildflower attracts butterflies and readily self-seeds. Light purple fused petals contrast with the dark purple ring at the top of the flower’s throat, giving the appearance of birds’ eyes.

5. With this particular plant, the seed head can be more interesting than the flower itself.
A blue flower with dewey petals blooms on a fuzzy stem alongside pointy seed heads.
Photo courtesy of Chiew Loo.

A. Cranesbill
B. Egret wing
C. Pigeon beak

View Answer

The correct answer is A. Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum ‘Azure Blue’). This herbaceous perennial, which spreads through rhizomes, has fragrant foliage that turns red after the first frost in fall. Bright pink-purple flowers mature into seed heads that resemble a crane’s head with a long beak.

6. From one of these popular succulents, many others grow.
Clusters of large and small green rosettes with pointy succulent leaves grow on the ground.
Photo courtesy of Susanne Wiik.

A. Goose eggs
B. Hens and chicks
C. Dove nests

View Answer

The correct answer is B. Hens and chicks (Sempervivum ‘Twilight Blues’). A member of the Crassulaceae, or stonecrop family, this succulent has rosettes of pointy leaves. The original rosette (“hen”) produces miniature offsets that are referred to as “chicks.”

7. The nectar-rich flowers of this plant attract more than just butterflies.
Creamy yellow, tubular flowers with dark purple calyxes bloom along a light green stem.
Photo courtesy of Simon Marshall.

A. Warbler sage
B. Hummingbird mint
C. Oriole mint

View Answer

The correct answer is B. Hummingbird mint (Agastache ‘Summer Glow’). The tubular, nectar-filled flowers of this herbaceous perennial attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Thanks for taking the quiz. How many bird-named plants did you guess correctly?

Be sure to check out For the Birds, a multidisciplinary exhibition and program series inspired by the Garden’s resident birds, as well as “For the Birds: The Birdsong Project,” a multialbum set of original recordings celebrating birds by 200-plus artists, compiled by Randall Poster. Join in on birding tours and events and explore our other bird-themed gardens. Find more information at bbg.org/forthebirds.

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Image, top of page: Calohortus