Native trees for bees, beneficial bugs, and birds
By: Jill Raver, tree expert at PlantingTree
Why Choose Native Trees?
Native trees are low maintenance. They are already adapted to the local ecosystem and, therefore, require less water, pesticides, and fertilizer than introduced species. They host native insects which feed native birds. Native trees also house birds in their branches and feed birds with their seeds. Planting Native trees is an excellent way to enrich your landscape and the environment.
Why Do We Want More Bees and Bugs?!
Insects are a very important part of the food web. They feed birds and many other types of animals. Without caterpillars and other insects, birds would fail to thrive and breed. More and more data is finding that native trees host significantly more caterpillars and insects versus non-indigenous trees. These same studies find birds are much more likely to nest in yards with native plant species. A decline in bugs means a decline in birds.
Insects are pollinators. Bees are the most important pollinators. Honeybees pollinate ⅓ of the world’s crops. Pollination gives us delicious fruits and vegetables. Cross-pollination can actually make these foods taste better and produce heavier crops. It even creates exciting new varieties naturally. Bugs are good. They help us get yummy food and so much more. A decline in bees and other pollinators means a decline in fruits and veggies including coffee and chocolate!
“The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.”
― George Orwell
Oaks (Quercus spp.)
These long-lived trees give more to the environment than they take. They clean the air, feed birds and wildlife with their acorns, and host more caterpillars than any other tree. These caterpillars are absolutely crucial for the survival of native bird species, like Blue Jays, warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, and orioles. Northern Red Oak and Shumard Oak trees are our favorites.
Maples (Acer spp.)
Red and Silver Maples are great trees for bees, birds, and the earth. These trees also host countless species of caterpillars to feed songbirds including finches, robins, orioles, woodpeckers, grosbeaks, cardinals, Pine Siskins, vireos, tanagers, warblers, and sapsuckers. We love the Autumn Blaze Maple which is a hybrid of the Red Maple and the Silver Maple and the October Glory Maple which is an improved Red Maple cultivar.
Birch (Betula spp.)
Birch Trees, like River Birch, attract the chickadee, titmouse, and other songbirds with their seeds and a nice supply of tasty caterpillars. They fill their beaks and bellies and often call these trees home.
Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Bees, other pollinators, and hummingbirds flock to this tree’s lovely tulip-like blooms. It is a favorite for its nectar and pollen. The Tulip Poplar feeds and houses finches, chickadees, cardinals, titmice, sapsuckers, and more.
Sycamore (Platanus spp.)
These sturdy trees house tons of insects and caterpillars that feed native bird species. The American Sycamore houses Barred Owls, Wood Ducks and feeds finches, juncos, flycatchers, and chickadees.
Planting large trees can have a huge impact as far CO2 absorption and Carbon storage, but we don’t all have the room for a large shade tree. Smaller native trees are important for the environment as well and can fit in a small urban yard.
“Tree planting is always a utopian enterprise, it seems to me, a wager on a future the planter doesn't necessarily expect to witness.”
― Michael Pollan
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
This understory tree produces berries that feed wildlife and more than 35 species of songbirds, including cardinals, tufted titmice, bluebirds, juncos, and waxwings. Robins, mockingbirds, and sparrows nest in the branches of mature dogwoods. The early spring flowers of the Dogwood provide nectar to bees and other pollinating insects. Butterflies love this tree and often consider it home.
Redbuds (Cercis spp)
Bees love the abundant magenta blooms that coat this tree in spring. Redbuds produce a dependable supply of nectar and pollen when native bees need the most food and there isn’t a lot available. Songbirds enjoy feasting on the seeds of the Redbud tree. The Eastern and Oklahoma Redbud trees are the more well known Redbuds, but check out exciting Eastern Redbud cultivars like Royal White, Forest Pansy, Rising Sun, and Ruby Falls. The last two are colorful dwarf varieties that will fit in even the smallest landscape!
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.”
Now go out and plant some native trees for the birds, the bugs, and the bees!
Please note: This article is written by tree expert Jill Raver from PlantingTree to increase the awareness of native US trees and the wildlife benefits they bring to the decorative garden. The trees referenced in this article can be found at PlantingTree, a family owned nursery that takes great pride in the quality of each plant.