New and experienced wildlife gardeners alike have the delightful dilemma of deciding which plants to plant in order to attract birds and butterflies and other beautiful creatures. Plants are used in many different ways by wildlife, and some plants are extraordinary in how many species they serve. Some provide nectar or pollen or berries, and others serve as larval or adult food sources through their foliage, bark, and even roots. Some plants offer dense foliage that provide cover for wildlife or are ideal places to raise young. And yet others might do all of the above.
I often talk about the wildlife value of a plant. This term is relative — in nature, a plant that serves one species is equally important to a plant that serves many. But if you are starting out on a budget for your garden, know that there are plants that are very special in how much wildlife they support, and it can be quickly rewarding if you start out with a plant that attracts many different kinds of critters.
One of my favorites is Mexican Plum, Prunus mexicana. I call this small tree a perfect wildlife habitat plant because in one fell swoop it provides most of the necessary elements of a habitat. Its dense foliage is an excellent place for animals to hide in, and many birds build their nests there. It provides pollen and nectar with its flowers in the spring, its leaves are a larval food source for Tiger Swallowtails and different moths, and in the fall its fruits are consumed by birds and mammals. The plums themselves can even be thought of as a potential water source for some animals. The Mexican Plum also happens to be easy to grow and tolerates a range of soil types — always a plus in my Texas garden.
Another favorite is Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, a native and well-behaved vine. It is a larval host for the Spring Azure butterfly and the Snowberry Clearwing hummingbird moth. Its berries attract finches and other birds, and its red tubular flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and insects. Wrens and other birds have even been known to nest in it.
How does one get to know more about what plants to choose? I’m a big fan of research, both online and in the community. You might want to start with your local nursery, particularly one that specializes in native plants, and talk with the staff there. Most regions have a variety of local clubs (often part of a larger organization) that offer lists of the best native plants for the local wildlife, including Audubon, your state’s Native Plant Society, butterfly/bee/amphibian groups, and more. One of my favorite online sources is the Wildflower Center plant database. And of course, there are some great suggestions right here at Beautiful Wildlife Garden!
What plants do you prize for their incredible wildlife value in your area?
Meredith O’Reilly gardens for wildlife in Austin, Texas, and writes about her garden adventures at Great Stems.
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