By Sue Light, Master Gardener in Dakota County
Are you among the growing number of Dakota County gardeners who are helping the environment by selecting plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife? Many gardeners are planting native plants such as purple coneflower, echinacea, hyssop and milkweed. Native plants usually are the best for native pollinator habitat and offer the following additional benefits. They generally:
- Do not require fertilizers
- Require fewer pesticides, if any, for maintenance
- Require less water than non native plants
- Promote local native biological diversity
In addition to garden perennials, there are many native trees that also offer these benefits and attract many kinds of wildlife.
Of course a tree is a more permanent addition to your landscape than are perennial flowers and grasses so you will want to consider many factors when selecting the right tree to plant.
- How close are any buildings, streets, sidewalks and driveways
- What kind of soil do you have
- How much light does the site receive
- How will the new tree impact activities in your yard
- What kind of wildlife will this tree attract
The following is a list of native trees and the wildlife they attract.
Bur Oak This is one of the best native trees in the midwest for attracting wildlife. 96 to 100 species of wildlife are reported to use this tree for habitat and as a source of food. It attracts butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife. It grows 60-80 ft. tall and 40-80 ft. wide. It grows in full sun.
Hackberry This tree produces a small berry that ripens in the fall that birds love. I have one planted near my deck and enjoy watching birds climb up and down the furrowed bark looking for insects. These birds include nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers and even warblers stop by in the spring and fall. The Hackberry is also a larval host to several butterflies and moths including the mourning cloak. Like the Bur Oak it is a large tree growing to about 60 ft. tall. It is drought tolerant.
Common Serviceberry (also called Juneberry) This can be either a single or multi-stemmed tree that grows to 15-25 ft. tall and as wide. It can be grown in full sun to part shade. I have three of these in my yard because in the spring it is one of the earliest trees to flower. The delicate looking flowers are a lovely white followed by reddish purple fruit. The birds find this fruit immediately. This year robins visited the trees daily to eat the fruit. Catbirds, chickadees and cedar waxwings were also frequent visitors.
Pagoda Dogwood If you are looking for a tree that will grow in partial shade or shade this small tree is worth considering. It is a beautifully shaped tree that has a flat-topped crown with horizontal layers of branches. It can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub or a single stemmed small tree. It grows 15-25 ft. tall and about as wide. It produces white flowers in the spring and the berries, which are ripe in the summer, are devoured by birds. It also attracts grouse, pheasants, turkeys and squirrels. It is a larval host for the Spring Azure butterfly.
American Mountain Ash This is another good tree for attracting wildlife. It grows in full sun to part shade to about 30 ft. tall and 15-25 ft. wide. The orange fruits stay on the tree all winter and provides a critical food source for many migrating bird species. The fruits are a good source of iron and vitamin C for the birds. It is recognized by pollination ecologists as a good tree to attract native bees.
Witch Hazel This is really a large shrub growing to 12 ft. tall and 12 ft. wide. It does best in full or part sun. It looks great in the fall because of the yellow flowers and brilliant gold fall foliage. The small brown fruit of this tree attracts birds.
American Hornbeam also known as Ironwood Tree This tree does best as an understory tree and is extremely tolerant of shade. It grows to 30-45 ft. tall and 20-30 ft. wide. The hop like fruit may stay on the tree through the autumn and winter. It attracts birds and butterflies. It is a larval host to the Easter Tiger Swallowtail, Tiger swallow-tail, Red-spotted Purple and the Striped hairstreak butterflies.
You can see all of these trees as well as many other native trees at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
Two good resources for learning more about Minnesota Native Trees are:
1. Henderson, Carrol L., “Landscaping for Wildlife” 1994 Published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
2. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center www.wildflower.org/plants. This site has a native plant data base of almost 8,000 plants.