Native Pollinator Trees and Shrubs
Recommended Native Plants
Native plants have a profound role in the environment. In particular, trees and shrubs are essential in providing habitat for wildlife. Not only do they provide shelter and places to raise young, but several bear fruit and seeds. A diversity of trees and shrubs on your landscape will provide food throughout the year for various local wildlife such as birds, mammals, insects and more. In addition to providing wildlife habitat, trees and shrubs benefit communities by increasing shade, improving air quality, and filtering stormwater. Below are some recommended native trees and shrubs you can add to your landscape.
American holly, Ilex opaca, is a large, evergreen tree that is native to the central and eastern regions of North America. It commonly grows in woods or along stream and river banks.
While it is primarily an understory tree, American hollies can be grown in full sun or partial shade. They will grow in a wide range of well-draining soil conditions, but will falter in consistently saturated soils. American hollies are often planted in urban settings due to their tolerance for pollution.
In the spring and early summer, the American holly produces small greenish-white flowers that ripen into red berries in fall and winter. A male and female plant must be in close range to one another in order to produce the berries that will ripen on the female plant and persist on the tree through the winter.
The red berries really pop against the waxy, dark green leaves of the holly. The dense leaves provide great cover during the winter when most other trees are bare.
When flowering, American holly provides nectar for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. It is also the larval host plant for Henry's Elfin butterfly larvae which appear from February to May. The fruits are eaten by songbirds, wild turkeys, quail, white-tailed deer, squirrels and other small mammals. These berries are not edible for humans.
Due to its dense foliage and larger size, American holly is not always a great selection for small spaces, however, it serves well for creating privacy screens along property borders or in natural areas. This tree also adds texture and visual interest to pollinator gardens, winter gardens, and native plant gardens year-round.
Fun Fact: The leaves of American holly have sharp spines along the leaf margins.
Aromatic sumac, Rhus aromatica, is a native, deciduous shrub that grows in central and eastern North America. It can be found naturally occurring in dry, rocky prairies, open fields or open woodland habitats.
Aromatic sumac is a suckering plant that typically forms colonies and grows to a height of 2-6 feet tall. This spreading habit, along with its tolerance for drought and erosion, makes it a perfect plant for sloping hillsides or other areas where erosion is a concern. Aromatic sumac prefers rocky, dry soils, but can adapt to a variety of well-draining soils that range from sandy-loam to clay. It can be planted in full sun or partial shade with medium moisture.
This shrub tends to bloom in late winter or early spring. The female produces a cluster of fragrant flowers that are yellowish-gold, while the male flowers form as catkins that droop from the stems. Bright red, hairy fruits develop by late summer after the female plants are pollinated.
The leaves of aromatic sumac are a glossy green that often turns a reddish-purple or golden color in fall. The leaves are trifoliate, meaning they have three parts to the leaf, and emit a strong fragrance when crushed. The leaves are also the larval host for luna moth and red-banded hairstreak caterpillars.
Aromatic sumac flowers attract adult butterflies and bees with their pollen and nectar. When the berries ripen, wildlife such as turkeys, ruffed grouse, robins, and flickers flock to the shrubbery, as well as small mammals like raccoons, possums, and chipmunks. Not only is this plant a great source of food for a variety of wildlife, but it also provides cover for small mammals and birds.
Aromatic sumac makes a great addition to sloping hillsides, but can also be incorporated into butterfly gardens, natural areas and sensory gardens.
Fun Fact: Aromatic sumac has allelopathic (growth-inhibiting) properties so make sure to plant in mass groupings or with plants that are compatible.
American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is a native, medium-sized shrub that is found in central and southeast North America. It can be found growing in open woodlands, meadows and thickets.
American beautyberry prefers full sun or partial shade and can grow between 3-8 feet high. It has an erect, arching habit which can be used to add height and texture to borders or garden beds. It prefers moist, well-draining soils but has a good tolerance for periods of drought. It can be grown in all three regions of North Carolina.
In the early summer, loose clusters of tiny flowers appear in the axils where the leaves meet the stem. Blooms may range from white to pink to purple. Once pollinated, these flowers will ripen into vibrant purple berries that whorl and cluster around the stem.
The berries ripen in early to late fall and are eaten by an abundance of wildlife including song birds, game birds, deer, raccoons, opossums and foxes. Around the same time, the shrub's bright green leaves turn a golden yellow before dropping off the plant, creating a beautiful contrast with any remaining berries.
American beautyberry can be added to a rain garden, winter garden, pollinator garden or a naturalized area.
Fun Fact: American beautyberry has been found to contain two compounds in its leaves and other parts of the plant that naturally repel mosquitoes.
Black cherry, Prunus serotina, is a medium to large sized deciduous tree that is native to the eastern and central regions of North America. It can be found growing naturally in woodlands, thickets, old fields, and on stream side slopes.
Black cherry can be found in all parts of the state, with higher populations occurring in the mountains. They perform best when planted in full sun and moist, well-draining soil, but they will also tolerate partial shade and drier soils. At maturity, black cherry trees have pendulous, arching branches and may reach 60-80 feet in height.
From April to May, drooping racemes of white flowers appear on the terminal ends of the branches and glossy leaves follow shortly thereafter. The flower clusters attract an abundance of native pollinators, including bees and butterflies. The bark showcases orange-brown lenticels and the leaves have a characteristic orange fuzz on the backside of the veins. In fall, the leaves will turn yellow before dropping off the tree.
Black cherry is one of the most important native trees for wildlife in North Carolina. Dark purple berries ripen along the racemes in late summer to early fall to be readily foraged by songbirds, wild turkeys, quail, deer and other small mammals. Along with being a pollinator magnet, this tree is also the host plant for as many as 450 different insect species including tiger swallowtail, red-spotted purple and spring azure butterflies.
Black cherry is a great addition to woodland gardens, pollinator gardens and native plant gardens. It can also be planted as a specimen tree or shade tree, if desired. While the berries and inner bark of the plant are edible, other parts can be toxic to humans, pets and horses, so make sure to plant this tree in an appropriate location.
Fun Fact: Black cherry's wood is commonly used for musical instruments, tool handles and furniture.
Bushy St. John's Wort
Bushy St. John's wort, Hypericum densiflorum, is a deciduous shrub that is native to eastern and central regions North America.
It grows in a variety of settings including wetlands; wet meadows, woods or roadside ditches; and pond, lake and stream banks.
This small to medium sized shrub reaches a height of 2-7 feet tall with an erect and dense growth habit. It can be pruned in early spring to a desired size and shape. Bushy St. John's wort is commonly planted in shrub borders or as a foundation plant. It prefers full sun to partial shade and is adaptable to a variety of soil conditions.
From June to September, bright yellow flowers bloom in dense, flat cymes on the new growth of the shrub. Each flower consists of five petals and multiple stamens, giving them a frilly appearance. These attractive flowers are beautiful in the landscape and attract a variety of pollinators. In the fall, the flowers will develop into cone-shaped seed capsules which attract songbirds.
Bushy St. John's wort is an adaptable shrub that makes a great addition to slopes, riparian areas, and pond landscapes. It is can also be incorporated into a pollinator garden or rain garden.
Fun Fact: Bushy St. John's wort is commonly found in the coastal and mountainous regions of North Carolina, but is rarely found in the Piedmont.
Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, is a multi-stemmed shrub native to the Eastern U.S. that can be naturally found growing in swampy areas, along ponds or streams, and in prairie swales. Adaptable to several soil types, buttonbush can be found in all 3 regions of North Carolina. It can be planted in both full sun or in partial shade conditions and can reach a height of 5 to 8 feet tall. It has a long bloom time as it begins to bloom in June and continues until August.
The flowers of buttonbush are small but create a spherical cluster with protruding pistils from the tubular petals. They are usually white but can also be light pink or cream in color. The flowers are excellent for pollinators and will attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other beneficial insects. According to research by Doug Tallamy, buttonbush supports 24 species of various moths and butterflies as their larval host plant. Not only does it support pollinators and caterpillars, but the bushy habit of the shrub also provides cover for small mammals and amphibians. The bushy habit, however, can be trimmed up in a garden setting for a neater appearance. Although the leaves do not have a very prominent fall color, the seed heads turn a vibrant red in early autumn and make a striking appearance in the garden. In the winter, the seeds of button bush are eaten by songbirds, ducks, as well as other waterfowl and shorebirds. Due to the buttonbush's tolerance of wet soils, it is an excellent plant for a bog garden, wetland garden, rain garden or as a planting around a pond area.
Fun Fact: Buttonbush was deemed one of the top most beneficial native plants by the USDA as it provides food for 24 species of insects, 8 waterfowl species, 3 mammalian species and several pollinators.
Eastern Red Cedar
Eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, is a large, evergreen tree that is native to the eastern half of North America. Its name is a little misleading, since it is in fact a juniper, not a cedar.
With a range that extends into 37 states, Eastern red cedar is the most widespread of the eastern conifers. It grows in a variety of habitats including pastures, prairies and woodland edges.
Eastern red cedar has thick foliage with columnar growth that reaches 30-70 feet in height. While it prefers moist, well-draining soils, it will also tolerate dry conditions. This hardy tree is adaptable to a variety of soil types ranging from sandy or rocky soils to hard clay. Eastern red cedar tolerates full shade when it is young, but performs best when planted in full sun.
The red cedar's notable feature is its ability to tolerate very tough garden conditions. Whether your garden experiences extreme heat and drought or prolonged freezing temperatures, eastern red cedar will remain steadfast. It is also highly salt tolerant, making it a great specimen tree for coastal regions or areas where roads are frequently salted.
In spring, the female trees produce inconspicuous cone-like flowers, as the male trees begin producing clusters of small, pollen-bearing cones on their branch tips. Once pollinated, the female flowers develop into pale blue berries that persist on the tree into late winter.
The thick, evergreen, scale-like needles provide great nesting sites and cover for wildlife year-round. Many birds and mammals eat the berries, including the cedar waxwing. Many insects rely on eastern red cedar as well, such as the juniper hairstreak, for which the eastern red cedar is a larval host plant.
Eastern red cedar is a great tree to incorporate in a screen or privacy planting or in pollinator, native or winter gardens.
Fun Fact: Eastern red cedar is used to make furniture, log cabins and fences.
Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is a woody and herbaceous shrub found in the eastern and mid-western regions of North America. It naturally grows in all regions of North Carolina in moist woodlands, edge habitat, meadows, stream banks and disturbed areas.
Elderberry is a medium-sized shrub that can reach 9 to 12 feet tall. It's arching, multi-branched stems give it a dense appearance that is perfect for hedgerows and borders. It can grow in wet to dry soil, but does best in moist, rich soils that are located in full sun to partial shade. Elderberry is a fast grower, but heavy pruning in the winter can help maintain your desired size and form.
Dense, flat-topped clusters of white flowers are borne on the terminal ends of its branches from May to July, attracting a diversity of pollinators. It has compound leaves with 4-6 pairs of leaflets and one terminal leaflet. The leaves turn from green to yellow at the onset of fall. Elderberry's pithy stems are often used by wood nesting bees who lay their eggs in these hollow stems.
Once pollinated, black or dark purple berries develop by late summer, attracting a variety of songbirds and other wildlife such as deer that browse the twigs and the leaves. The dense habit of the shrub also provides great cover for quail and other small wildlife.
Elderberry can be incorporated into a naturalized area but is also a charming addition to a rain garden, pond garden, pollinator garden or wildlife food plot.
Fun Fact: Cooked elderberries are commonly used to make pies, cakes, jellies, wine and other victuals.
Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis, is a large, deciduous tree that is native to central and eastern North America. It can be found naturally growing along stream banks and rocky hillsides or in alluvial plains and open woods.
Hackberry is an excellent tree for urban areas because it has a nice canopy and reaches a height of 30 to 40 feet. It prefers full sun, but is tolerant of garden conditions including partial shade, poor soils, urban pollutants and wind. It is adaptable to a variety of soil types and grows best in dry or moist soils.
Hackberry trees bloom in spring with clusters of male flowers and solitary female flowers. The flowers are generally pale yellow or green in color. Once pollinated, female flowers develop into purple-brown or reddish-brown fruits that ripen in the fall and persist on the tree well into winter.
The fruit is coveted by birds and mammals alike. The dark green leaves host the larvae of question mark, mourning cloak and American snout-nosed butterflies. Not only are the fruits and leaves great for wildlife, but this sturdy tree also provides excellent cover and places to raise young.
Hackberry is often planted as a shade tree or street tree but is a great addition to a butterfly garden, native plant garden or wildlife garden.
Fun Fact: Hackberry has been used by Native Americans for food, medicine and fuel. Today it is mainly used for furniture and athletic goods.
Hoary azalea, Rhododendron canscens, is a large deciduous shrub that is native to the southeastern region of North America. It is commonly found growing in swampy areas, along streams or in moist wooded landscapes.
Hoary azalea typically grows 6 to 8 feet tall in a variety of lighting conditions, from dappled shade to full sun. It likes moist, but well draining soils and grows in all three regions of North Carolina, making it an excellent addition to a garden for spring blooms.
These azaleas may begin blooming as early as March and some persist as late as May. The trumpet-shaped flowers grow in clusters of 5-9 flowers on the terminal ends of the branches. The flowers are pinkish-white with long protruding stamen and pistils. They emit a sweet fragrance that attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds alike. The green leaves turn bright red or burgundy in the fall before dropping to the ground.
Hoary azalea and other native azaleas add spring color to naturalized areas, woodland gardens, or pollinator gardens.
Fun Fact: While azaleas are beautiful, it is important to keep in mind that the leaves are toxic when ingested by humans and some other mammals, such as dogs, so make sure to plant it in appropriate areas.
Inkberry, Ilex glabra, is a small evergreen shrub that is native to sandy woods, swamps and bogs of the southeast, along with the coastal plains of the Northeast.
Inkberry can reach 5-10 feet tall and often forms colonies by suckering and spreading stolons. While it is a low maintenance plant, occasional pruning may be needed to maintain a desired shape.
It is best planted in full sun to partial shade, and can adapt to clay or sandy soils. Inkberry likes moist or occasionally wet soils and has the most success when planted in the Piedmont or Coastal Plain of North Carolina.
In early summer, inkberry produces greenish-white flowers that appear along the stems in cyme inflorescence clusters. A male and female plant must be in close proximity for cross-pollination to occur in order for the females to produce berries. The flowers are a great source of nectar and pollen for a variety of pollinators and they are commonly used in the production of gallberry honey.
Dark purple-black berries develop on the female plant and ripen in the fall. These berries will persist into the winter if they aren't first eaten. The evergreen leaves are arranged alternately on the stems and are dark green and glossy.
Inkberry provides a number of resources for wildlife. It is a host plant for the Henry's elfin butterfly, and the evergreen leaves provide great, year-round cover for birds and other wildlife. The leaves and berries are commonly eaten by deer and rabbits. Bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, songbirds and other wildlife feed on the berries, as well.
Inkberry bushes form nice hedgerows and privacy barriers with winter interest. They also serve well in wetland gardens, pollinator gardens or rain gardens.
Fun Fact: Tea was made from dried and roasted inkberry leaves by the indigenous peoples of North America.
Large witch-alder, Fothergilla latifolia, previously known as F. major, is a deciduous shrub native to the Southeast found on summits, slopes, stream banks, and in wet meadows throughout the mountains and Piedmont of North Carolina.
Large witch-alder is a medium-sized shrub that grows from 6-12 feet tall. It is multi-stemmed and rounded in its growth habit and commonly situated in full sun to partial shade. While this witch-alder prefers moist soil with good drainage, it can also tolerate extremes such as drought or saturated soil.
White, brush-like flowers appear on the terminal ends of the branches from April to May. These feathery, often fragrant, flowers attract a variety of bees and butterflies. The seed capsules and cover provided by the foliage attract songbirds. Deer are not attracted to large witch-alder. In the fall, its dark green leaves turn a fiery yellow-orange before dropping off the shrub.
Large witch-alder is an excellent addition to a rain garden, wetland garden, pollinator garden or native plant garden. Common cultivars of this native plant include 'Ark Beauty,' 'Blue Shadow,' and 'Mt. Airy'.
Fun Fact: Dwarf witch-alder, Fothergilla gardenii, is the witch-alder species that can be found on the coastal plain.
Mountain ash, Sorbus americana, is a small, deciduous tree that grows in the understory of forests and outcrops in the northeastern parts of North America.
This ornamental tree does not respond well to heat, therefore, it is often found in the mountains of North Carolina, with an occasional appearance in the Piedmont. They are rare to see on the coastal plain.
Mountain ash can be found growing in full sun or partial shade and typically reaches 15 to 30 feet in height. It prefers moist and well-draining soils, making it perfect for the rocky soils of the mountains or gardens on sloped terrain.
The urn-shamed, creamy-colored blooms appear in the summer, creating a flat-shaped floral display, known as a corymb, across the outer parts of the tree. These flowers provide nectar and pollen to pollinators during the summer.
Once pollinated, the flowers ripen into a corymb of fleshy, bright red or orange berries that persist through the winter, providing food for songbirds, deer and other wildlife.
Mountain ash is in the rosacea family and is fairly susceptible to fireblight, a disease which commonly infects roses. If the tree becomes infected, be sure to prune away the infected branches to prevent further spread.
Mountain ash is a wonderful shade tree for lawns, home landscapes and native plant gardens or a great addition to naturalized areas and wildlife food plots.
Fun Fact: The berries are also edible to humans and can be made into jellies.
Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is a large deciduous tree that is native to the eastern half of North America. It is commonly found in full sun or partial shade conditions in open prairies, pine forests, dry woodlands or old fields. While persimmon is very adaptable to different soil types, it prefers moist, sandy soils.
Persimmon trees often grow 30 to 60 feet tall with spreading branches. The bell-shaped flowers are creamy or light green in color and appear along the branches in the spring. For fruiting to occur, a male and a female tree should be planted in the same area to cross-pollinate. Persimmons are mainly pollinated by bees but other pollinators may stop for a visit as well. Luna moth and hickory horned devil caterpillars may be found munching on the leaves.
As the days shorten and nights get cooler, the leaves display yellow or burgundy fall color before dropping off the tree. The fruit ripens in the fall and will remain on the tree into the winter, allowing a window of time for the beautiful pinkish-orange fruit to display on bare branches. Persimmon fruits are 1-2 inches in size and have a sweet taste. Birds, deer, foxes, and other wildlife eat persimmons once they are ripe.
Persimmon trees are highly tolerant of urban settings that have hot summers, poor soils or air pollution. They are often planted as ornamental trees, but can also be incorporated into rain gardens, wildlife food plots, naturalized areas and native gardens.
Fun Fact: Persimmon fruit is often used to make jellies, ice cream, and pies once it is ripe. The under-ripe fruit is acidic with a very bitter taste.
Possumhaw, Ilex decidua, is a deciduous holly native to eastern North America. It can be found naturally growing in wet woods, along streams, and in lowland valleys and swamps. It is a small upright tree that typically grows to a height of 15 feet, but has been known to grow up to 30 feet in some instances.
Possumhaw performs best when planted in full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade conditions. It is adaptable to a variety of soil types, preferring moist soils with good drainage. These trees will also tolerate periods of drought and flooding, making them an excellent choice for riparian areas.
In spring, butterflies and other pollinators visit the small, cream-colored blooms for nectar and pollen. The leaves are glossy, green and oval-shaped, giving possumhaw a beautiful summer texture. Berries form on the female plant and begin to ripen in September, persisting on bare branches late into the winter. In order for possumhaw to produce berries, a female and male plant must be planted in close proximity for cross pollination. The bright red berries have a striking appearance during the winter in contrast with the light grey bark of the bare branches.
Possumhaw offers a lot for wildlife. Not only do the flowers support pollinators, but it is serves as the host plant for the Henry elfin butterfly. The fruits are eaten by songbirds, game birds and mammals such as opossums and raccoons. In addition to serving as a food source, some species also rely on possumhaw for cover or nesting sites.
Possumhaw is a hearty addition to pollinator gardens, winter gardens or naturalized areas, but it can also be incorporated into hedgerows or planted in small groupings.
Fun Fact: Possumhaw is commonly pollinated by Colletes banksi, a native bee that specializes in gathering pollen from Ilex spp.
Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is a small to medium sized deciduous tree that is native to eastern and central North America. It is often found as an understory tree on hillsides, fields and streambanks.
Redbuds typically grow 15 to 30 feet high but they are relatively slow growing. They can be planted in full sun to partial shade making them great specimen trees for a variety of gardens. You can plant redbuds in clay or loamy soils, but they will perform best in moist soils with good drainage. After planting, frequent watering is a must until the tree is fully established.
Right now, redbuds across the state are making a beautiful display. From March to May, bright pink or purple flowers burst into bloom along its branches, well before the tree leafs out. The abundance of the small, pea-like flowers attracts a variety of native bees and other pollinators. The heart-shaped leaves are bright green in the summer, turning a yellowish-gold color in the fall before dropping off the tree. Redbuds are in the legume family, so pollinated flowers develop into a flattened seedpod that drops from the branches.
Redbud has a long list of wildlife benefits. Not only does it provide cover, but songbirds and small mammals will occasionally eat the seeds. It is the host plant for as many as 12 species of Lepidoptera, including the Henry elfin butterfly. Pollinators flock to the trees floral resources, while leaf-cutter bees and other insects harvest pieces of the leaves to incorporate into their nests.
Redbud is an excellent specimen tree and can be added to a woodland garden, pollinator garden or naturalized area to add some spring color to a landscape.
Fun Fact: Redbuds have nitrogen fixing properties that enrich garden soils.
Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is a small to medium deciduous shrub that is native to eastern and central regions of North America. It can be found naturally occurring in hardwood forests, along stream banks and on sloping hillsides.
When adding red buckeye to your garden, be sure to plant it in an area that receives partial sunlight and has moist, well-draining soil for best results. As a medium-sized shrub, it typically matures to a height of 15-25 feet.
In spring, a red panicle inflorescence appears on the terminal ends of the shrub's branches. These tubular flowers attract a diversity of pollinators from hummingbirds to butterflies to bees that scour the flower clusters for nectar and pollen. After pollination, the flowers produce a capsule of 1 to 3 nutlets that are foraged by squirrels and other wildlife.
The palmate leaves resemble a spread-out hand, having five segments in a singular leaf. Red buckeye leaves will turn a brilliant yellow before dropping off the plant in late summer or early fall. Make sure to keep your red buckeye well watered during dry spells to prevent early leaf drop.
Red buckeye is an excellent addition to a woodland forest, naturalized area, pollinator garden or rain garden. It can also be incorporated into landscapes as a specimen tree. Due to its poisonous qualities, make sure to plant it out of reach of curious pets and children.
Fun Fact: Pioneers used the wood to make a black dye and incorporated the roots into soaps.
Red chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia, is a medium sized, multi-stemmed native shrub found in wet and dry thickets, swamps and bogs in eastern North America.
It is a deciduous shrub that typically grows in an erect, vase shape form. Red chokeberry grows 6-10 feet tall, 3-4 feet wide, and can sucker to form colonies. The shape and versatility of red chokeberry makes it great addition to a variety of naturalistic landscapes.
Red chokeberry's versatility includes adaptability to differential light and soil conditions. It can also be grown in full sun or full shade, however, more berries will be produced when the plant is exposed to longer periods of sunlight. While it prefers medium soil moisture, it will also tolerate wet or dry soils.
In the spring, -petaled, white flowers form in loose clusters that hang from the branches. Each flower has pinkish-red anthers that protrude from the center. These flower clusters attract a variety of pollinators from bees to butterflies who come to collect pollen or drink nectar. The leaves are a bright green in the summer and turn an orange-red in the fall.
After pollination, red berries can develop and persist on the shrub from fall to early winter. Due to the astringent taste of the berries, many songbirds opt for other native fruits and seeds. The berries are more commonly eaten by game birds, deer and bear, among other wildlife.
Between its adaptability and its wildlife value, red chokeberry would be a great addition to a native plant garden, winter interest garden or rain garden.
Fun Fact: It is a great native replacement for burning bush which is a commonly planted, but invasive, landscape plant.
Red maple, Acer rubrum, is a native, deciduous tree that grows in central and eastern North America. It naturally grows in upland deciduous forests and along stream banks in eastern and central North America.
Red maples can grow anywhere from 40 to 70 feet high, making them a great shade tree for lawns, streets and parks. They grow in medium to wet soils and thrive in full sun to partial shade. The red maple can be found growing in all three regions of North Carolina, and is frequently planted in urban areas because of its tolerance of compacted soils, air pollution and heat.
The red maple is one of the first trees to bloom and to change color in fall. The blooms appear in late winter or early spring and develop in drooping clusters. The flowers are bright red to pinkish-orange with stamens protruding from the flowers. The flowers are thought to be pollinated by both wind and early emerging bees. Once pollinated, the flowers develop into brown or red samaras that drop in late spring and summer. In the fall, the serrated leaves turn a brilliant red, orange or yellow, brightening up the fall landscape.
Not only is red maple beautiful year-round, but it also provides lots of wildlife opportunities. Red maple flowers are one of the earliest nectar sources for bees and it is the host plant for numerous insects. The seeds are foraged by birds and squirrels, while new growth may be browsed by deer and other mammals.
Red maples are perfect shade trees that can be incorporated into riparian areas, woodland gardens, pollinator gardens, or winter gardens. Common cultivars for red maple include 'October Glory,' 'Brandywine' and 'Franksred.'
Fun Fact: Red maple wood is soft and often used for furniture or woodenware.
Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, is a medium to large deciduous shrub that is native to the central and eastern regions of North America. It can be found naturally growing in moist or dry forests, slopes and swamps, or along stream banks.
Spicebush is a great garden addition for pollinator habitats in North Carolina. Not only does it grow in all three regions of the state, but it is also adaptable to several soil types and moisture levels. It typically grows between 8 and 15 feet tall and prefers to be planted in partial shade. Tolerant of both occasional flooding and droughts, spicebush is a reliable garden shrub.
As early as March, tiny greenish-yellow flowers emerge in clusters along the branches. They supply nectar and pollen for early emerging pollinators, and will attract both butterflies and bees. To produce berries, a male and female plant must be located near each other. Bright red drupes with a spicy scent develop on the female plants in late summer and early fall.
The light green leaves host both Palamedes and spicebush swallowtail butterflies. The leaves are fragrant when crushed and turn bright yellow in the fall before dropping off the plant. The red fruits are eaten by songbirds and deer will browse the twigs and leaves.
Spicebush is a champion pollinator plant that can be added to a butterfly gardens, winter gardens and rain gardens, or incorporated into hedgerows.
Fun Fact: Native Americans made tea from the leaves and dried berries for spices.
Sweet pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia, is a woody shrub that is native to the southeast and is found naturally on coastal plains, pine lands, swamps, stream banks, and sea shores.
This deciduous shrub blooms in the late summer, producing 3 to 8 inch spikes made up of clusters of fragrant flowers. The sweet fragrance, along with the flowers being an excellent pollen and nectar source, attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The flowers are typically white and once pollinated, will form brown capsules that persist into the winter. The fruit is eaten by birds and mammals in the fall and winter as well. In the fall, the leaves turn a dull yellow or orange color giving this plant year-round seasonal interest.
Sweet pepperbush typically grows 3 to 6 feet tall but can get up to 12 feet tall. Luckily, this shrub responds very well to pruning. Pruning can be used to control the suckers that pop up or to keep the shape neat and tidy. It blooms on new growth, so pruning should be done in the winter so that it will still flower in the summer the following year. There are hardly any diseases or pest issues that affect sweet pepperbush and it can also grow in full sun or full shade making it every gardener's dream plant! It must be planted in moist or wet soils to preform its best, but it is versatile to sandy or clay soils. While it is not tolerant of drought conditions, it is tolerant of salt spray making it an excellent choice for gardens near the ocean.
In order to propagate sweet pepperbush, methods such as seed germination, division or softwood cuttings can be used. Sweet pepperbush is an excellent garden plant that can be used in hedgerows, foundation plantings, naturalized areas or rain gardens.
Fun Fact: Sweet pepperbush is often found in the understory of forests dominated by cypress, pine, beech and magnolia trees.
Swamp rose, Rosa palustris, is an upright, deciduous shrub that displays rose-pink flowers in late spring and into early summer. The stems of this rosy shrub typically have a red-burgundy color and are covered in prickles, just like most other roses. This native shrub can be found naturally growing in swampy thickets or along the banks of streams, lakes, and rivers. In a garden setting, the Swamp Rose requires moist to wet soils and needs to be planted in full sun to part shade. While it can grow in a shady area, it is best to plant it in full sun to encourage more flowering and to decrease susceptibility to fungal diseases which can often affect the rose family.
The Swamp Rose is a great addition to a rain garden or to a native pollinator garden. It's rose-pink flowers provides nectar and pollen for pollinators and is often used for nesting material or as a nesting site for natives bees. In the fall, the deciduous leaves of the Swamp rose will turn a nice red color and small red fruits will develop from pollinated flowers. The red fruits will attract songbirds, squirrels, quail and wild turkey in the fall and winter.
Fun Fact: The fruit of roses are known as 'hips' and are packed with nutrients that are beneficial to wildlife.
The wax myrtle, Morella cerifera, is a large, evergreen shrub that is native to eastern North America, commonly found in swamps, marshes and along stream banks.
This shrub prefers full sun to partial shade and can grow in a variety of soil conditions. While they flourish best in moist or wet soils, wax myrtles are tolerant of both flooding and drought once established.
If you live on the coast or in areas where the roads are heavily salted, wax myrtles might be a great selection for your garden since they are highly tolerant to brackish water, salt and other tough conditions.
When it comes to wildlife services, wax myrtle can provide it all. Its evergreen leaves not only provide cover year-round, but it is also the larval host plant for the red-banded hairstreak butterfly.
In spring, small green flowers bloom along the old-growth branches that attract a variety of pollinators. However, in order for the flowers to ripen into berries, a male and female wax myrtle must both be present in the area. Once pollinated, the female plants produce grey-blue berries which ripen in the late fall and early winter. Birds and other wildlife, especially the yellow-rumped warbler, will hop between branches and forage the berries while they last.
Reaching a height of 6-12 ft. tall, this evergreen shrub is commonly planted as a screen plant in residential landscapes. It is also frequently used in habitat restoration projects, wetland gardens, hedgerows and other landscape designs.
Fun Fact: Wax myrtle berries were traditionally boiled to separate the berry from the waxy coating to glean wax that was used to make candles.
Winged sumac, Rhus copallinum, is a native, deciduous small tree that can be found in central and eastern regions of North America. It can be found naturally occurring in plains, rocky slopes, woodlands and prairies.
This small tree typically grows between 10 to 15 feet high. It will grow in a variety of soil types ranging across the state of North Carolina and will grow easily in places prone to heat and drought. While it can grow in a variety of soil types and soil moistures, it does prefer to be planted in full sun with good drainage. As it grows, it tends to sucker and create a dense patch of habitat that is perfect for hillsides and natural areas.
Winged sumac blooms in the late summer, typically from July to September. The greenish-yellow flowers develop into a bushy panicle of star-shaped flowers that grow at the center of outward branch. This cluster of nectar and pollen attracts an abundance of pollinators. The compound, green leaves turn a bright red in the fall adding beautiful fall color to a garden.
In order for the flowers to be pollinated, a male and female plant must be planted within the same area. Once cross-pollination occurs, the flowers develop into dull red-purple berries that persist on the tree into late winter and gradually turn black. The berries are eaten by songbirds, gamebirds, and mammals. It is also the larval host plant for red-banded hairstreaks and luna moths.
Winged sumac is often planted in hedgerows, naturalized areas and hillsides but it can also be incorporated into pollinator, wildlife or winter gardens.
Fun Fact: The central leaf stalk is winged between the leaflets, giving this plant its common name.
Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is a native, deciduous shrub that is found near swamps, streams, river banks, ponds and lakes. Its preference for moist to wet soils allow it to thrive in habitats that are near bodies of water.
It is very adaptable to a variety of light conditions, with some growing in full shade and others growing in full sun. It is typically grown as a multi-branched large shrub, reaching a height of 10-15 feet tall, or as a small shrub with dwarf cultivars reaching 4-5 feet tall.
Winterberry offers a variety of wildlife benefits. Small, white flowers bloom along the stems in spring and early summer. The flowers grow close to the stem in clusters, attracting a variety of pollinators. In the fall, the pollinated flowers ripen into a tight cluster of bright red berries. In order for berries to develop, a male and female winterberry must be present in the same area so cross-pollination can occur. The berries only grow on the female shrub.
The leaves of winterberry are green during summer and may have caterpillars of the Henry's elfin butterfly munching on them. The leaves offer food to browsing deer and rabbits before turning yellow and dropping off in the fall. The berries ripen from August to December and provide food for 48 different bird species. These bright red berries offer beautiful winter interest in your garden as they persist on bare branches into late winter.
Winterberry is well-suited to many garden styles due to its high wildlife value and tolerance of wet soils, salt, and deer browsing. It is a great addition to hedgerows, rain gardens, native plant gardens, winter gardens and pollinator gardens.
Fun Fact: The specific epithet, verticillata, is a Greek word that refers to the whorled appearance that the berries have along the stem.
Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is a large, deciduous shrub that is native to the eastern half of North America. It can be found naturally growing in moist woodlands and thickets in full sun or partial shade.
Since it is a large shrub and may grow up to 15-20 feet tall, plant it in an area where it can either grow to that height or where it can be pruned easily. Witch hazel should also be planted in areas with good drainage and moist soil. While it cannot tolerate periods of drought, it will tolerate brief periods of flooding.
The leaves of witch hazel are bright green with wavy leaf margins that turn a gorgeous gold or copper color in the fall. Unique flowers appear along its stems in late fall or early winter, sometimes after the leaves have already dropped. The flowers are typically yellow or tan with spindly petals that emit a sweet fragrance.
As one of North Carolina's latest bloomers, witch hazel has a lot to offer wildlife. It provides nectar and pollen to late-flying pollinators when few floral resources are available, and the multi-branched shrub also offers great cover for wildlife. While it will attract some bees, witch hazel is mainly pollinated by noctuid moths. Once ripe, the fruits and seeds may be eaten by a variety of wildlife including wild turkey, songbirds, and small mammals.
Witch hazel can be a magnet for wildlife and makes a great addition to riparian areas, winter gardens, native gardens or woodland areas.
Fun Fact: Witch hazel has medicinal properties and is commonly used to treat inflammation and skin irritation.
Yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria, is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is native to the southeastern Atlantic region of North America. It can be found growing in maritime woods, sandy pinelands and other well-draining habitats in North Carolina.
Yaupon holly produces more fruit when planted in full sun, but it can also be planted in partial to full shade. It is an erect and multi-stemmed shrub that typically grows 10-20 feet tall, although it is a very slow growing plant. It adjusts well to pruning, allowing easy control over its shape and size for your garden needs.
This holly prefers well-draining soils, but is known to withstand periods of both drought and flooding. In addition to its tolerance for varying soil moisture levels, it is also a hardy plant that can withstand deer browsing or to salt-prone garden conditions.
In the spring, small greenish-white flowers develop on both the male and female plants. Although inconspicuous, pollinators such as bees and butterflies flock to the flowers in spring to gather pollen or sip nectar. The larvae of the Henry elfin butterfly may also be seen munching on the glossy, green leaves. Once cross-pollinated, the flowers ripen into bright red berries that persist on the shrub through the winter.
Several birds species, including robins and mockingbirds, eat the fruits in late winter and may use the branches as nesting sites. Some mammals, such as raccoons, foxes and skunks are also known to eat the berries.
Yaupon holly is a great addition to a rain garden, winter garden or pollinator garden. It can be incorporated into a hedgerow or privacy screening, while also providing habitat for wildlife.
Fun Fact: Yaupon holly was used by Native Americans to make caffeinated tea and a cleansing medicine.
Put up a Butterfly Highway sign to show off your amazing pollinator pitstop and start the conversation in your community about helping pollinators and conserving wildlife habitat.
One packet of native seeds provides as many as 7 different kinds of native flowering plants for monarchs and other pollinators, creating up to 25 square feet of habitat. The seed variety includes purple coneflowers, milkweed, black-eyed Susans, and more!