I love my Kentucky garden and all of the wonderful wildlife it supports. I am especially fond of what I call my “anchor” plants, which are the native trees and shrubs that play host to my lovely butterflies and provide food, cover and nesting sites for the song birds that grace my yard.
My pawpaw (Asimina triloba) tree is the only host plant for Zebra Swallowtail butterflies. This delightful tree grows wild in damp woods, but mine thrives in full sun as long as it has moist soil. I keep it pruned to retain a nice compact shape. Plant at least two if you want fruit. The reddish-brown blooms resemble the flowers of wild ginger, and they are pollinated by small carrion flies. I’m not particularly wild about the mushy banana-tasting fall fruit, but I’ve heard it makes great sweet bread and other desserts. I do really like the large tropical-looking leaves on this tree.
I have several Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) shrubs because they host my Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies. They grow in the same damp woods as the pawpaw trees. They prefer the wet, shady spots in my yard but will also grow in part-sun as long as their roots stay moist. Their tiny blooms appear prior to the leaves, and attract lots of small pollinators in early spring. The red berries on the female plants are a good food source for birds.
By now you’ve probably guessed it – this is another native of Kentucky’s damp wooded areas and stream banks. The prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) is actually in the citrus family, not ash. It is the host plant for Giant Swallowtail butterflies. In the far south, these butterflies lay eggs on citrus trees like orange and lime. I plant these along my fence line in part-sun to shade. They live up to their name as they are covered in thorns very similar to a rose-bush. The birds love to hang out in these shrubs.
Gotta have your greens!
Over the years I’ve learned how important it is to include shrubs and trees in my beautiful wildlife garden, not just pretty flowers. It’s all about balance and a diverse mix of plantings to attract plenty of insects, birds and other critters!
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