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Choosing Native Plants

by James P. Engel, © 2009

Select plants that have multipurpose attributes:

1)    Provide ornamental interest

2)    Have multi-season appeal.

3)    Be adaptable to the planting site and soil conditions.

4)    Provide some benefit to wildlife.

When designing for wildlife think in terms of habitat requirements.

Try to meet the particular needs of a species or group of animals.

1)    Food for a particular time of year.  Provide variety.

2)    Cover for resting, feeding etc.

3)    Provide nesting and breeding sites.

4)    Water

It is difficult to provide all the requirements for a particular animal or population of animals because of space requirements or other special needs. Most likely you will be satisfying the temporary needs of a few animals.  The benefits to wildlife will depend on many factors.

1)    Determine what animals are already in the area and how new plantings might benefit them.

2)    Large plantings are better than just a few plants.

3)    A variety of species is better than a monoculture.

4)    Is there suitable habitat in the area already?  Try to supplement.

5)    Plantings should be dense and linked to surrounding habitat.

6)    Are the animals you are targeting mobile (birds, butterflies) or restricted in mobility (mammals)?

Selecting Native Plants

1)    Choose only native plants to prevent possible problems with invasive plants.

2)    Non-natives can escape into the wild landscape through seed dispersal and disrupt the natural landscape.

3)    Birds and animals eating the reproductive parts can disperse the seeds long distance.

4)    Try to choose plants that already grow in your locality, this ensures that they are suited to your local conditions.

Good characteristics for wildlife.

Choose plants that produce abundant fruit, berries and seed and persist into the  fall and winter season.  Select plants that are dense and bushy that can be used for cover and nesting.

1)    Berries in the fall will be available for migrating birds.

2)    Berries and fruit that persists into winter provides a winter and early spring food supply.

3)    Evergreens provides good winter protection.

Flowering shrubs

Flowering shrubs are very versatile plants used both for landscaping and for wildlife.

Shrubs provide important cover for wildlife as well as providing important seasonal food resources in the form of fruit, seed and berries.  Many shrubs are adapted to adverse conditions such as shade, dry soils and wetland conditions.

Choke berry (Aronia arbutifolia) Ornamental shrub and wildlife food

Cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) Ornamental shrub and wildlife food

Elderberry  (Sambucus canadensis) Wildlife food

Grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa) Suckering ornamental shrub and wildlife food

Nannyberry viburnum (Viburnum lentago) Ornamental shrub and wildlife food

Spice bush (Lindera benzoin)  Deer resistant, ornamental shrub and wildlife food.

Silky dogwood (cornus ammomum) Ornamental shrub and wildlife food

Sweet shrub (Calycanthus viburnum) Deer resistant and ornamental shrub

Winter berry (Ilex verticillata) Ornamental shrub and wildlife food

Flowering  and Fruiting trees

Flowering trees offer a good choice both for landscaping and for wildlife.

Flowering species besides producing flowers also produce fruit or seed that is readily eaten by wildlife.

These species are normally semi-shade tolerant and small to medium size in overall height.

Choke cherry  (Prunus virginiana) Valuable ornamental and wildlife plant

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) Ornamental tree and wildlife plant

Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) Ornamental tree and wildlife plant

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternafolia) Ornamental tree and wildlife plant

Paw Paw (assimina trilobum) Ornamental tree and wildlife plant

Persimmon (Diosprya virginiana) Ornamental tree and wildlife plant

Red bud  (Cercis canadensis) Ornamental tree

Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) Ornamental tree and wildlife plant

Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) Ornamental tree and wildlife plant

Large native trees

Large forest trees can be used for shade or to create a forested environment in mixed plantings with shrubs and understory trees.  Canopy trees are generally long lived and are adaptable to a wide range of site conditions. A few species are featured here but all trees have a place in the woodland.

Sugar Maple  (Acer sacharum) Very adaptable, long lived and ornamental

Red Maple  (Acer rubrm) Very adaptable and ornamental

Oak species (Quercus sp.)  Long lived and valuable for lumber and wildlife.

Hickory species (Carya sp.) Long lived and valuable for lumber and wildlife.

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) Fast growing and valuable for lumber and wildlife.
Ash species ( Fraxinus sp.) Fast growing and valuable for lumber.

American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)  Plant along streams, rivers and flood plains.

this page updated March 10, 2009