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Ohio State University Extension


Native Trees: Creating Living Landscapes for Birds, Butterflies, Bees, and Other Beneficials

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Marne Titchenell, Program Director, Wildlife, School of Environment and Natural Resources
Denise Ellsworth, Program Director, Pollinator Education, Department of Entomology

Biodiversity—the variety of creatures living on earth—is under threat. Humans rely on plants, insects, birds, and countless other creatures for vital functions (also known as ecosystem services). These services include the creation of oxygen, nutrient cycling, decomposition, and the food, fiber and fuel humans need to survive. Loss of habitat is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity.

Birds, butterflies, moths, bees, and other beneficial creatures depend on plants to provide seeds, nectar, pollen, cover, nesting sites, and nesting materials. Human development and some agricultural practices have destroyed, degraded, or fragmented many natural areas, limiting available habitat for wildlife to feed, seek cover, and rear their young. Consequently, spaces under individual control such as backyards, decks and patios, community garden plots, and small meadows, are increasingly important to provide habitat and connect otherwise fragmented spaces.

Honey bee on a red flower. Honey bee on a white flower.
Bee on red maple. Photo by Heather Holm. Adreana bee on serviceberry. Photo by Heather Holm.

Rather than just selecting plants because of their ornamental appeal, many gardeners and householders are selecting plants native to Ohio to draw an assortment of living creatures to the landscape and to support the many ecosystem services they provide. Growing many different plant species (also known as plant diversity) is correlated with attracting a wider diversity of creatures, such as multiple species of wild bees. Some insects, such as monarch butterflies and specialist bees, have a very narrow range of native plants they can use as food sources for their young and will not reside or raise young in landscapes that don’t include these plants. Native plants can beautify our surroundings and create essential habitats for many creatures.

Interest in using native plants in landscapes has surged in the past decade. While they used to be difficult to find for purchase, native plants can now be found at many large and small nurseries and through mail-order catalogs. These plants are often included in home gardens, commercial landscapes, community garden plots, and public display gardens.

Native plants can be defined as plants that occur naturally in a particular region where they have evolved over thousands of years to adapt to physical conditions and develop relationships with other living organisms. The trees and shrubs in this factsheet series were selected because they offer multiple benefits to a variety of creatures, support biodiversity, and create “Living Landscapes.”

While these plants are native to the region and generally suitable to grow throughout Ohio, keep in mind that soil and moisture conditions vary across the state and from site to site. As with any growing or gardening situation, using the “right plant, right place” maxim is essential. Expecting a shade-loving plant that needs moist soil conditions to thrive in a sunny, dry space is a recipe for failure, even though the plant might be native to the region. It’s best to select suitable plants based on actual site conditions.

The following icons are used throughout the publication to describe the wildlife value of each plant.

Silhouette of bird.

Songbirds: Many species of songbirds live and breed in Ohio, and even more spend part of their lives here. Depending on the species, songbirds feed on a variety of plant-based food, including fruit, seeds, and nectar from trees and shrubs. Arthropods (insects and spiders) are an important source of protein and nutrients in many songbird diets; some songbirds eat arthropods year-round. Others consume and feed their young arthropods—especially caterpillars—during the nesting season.

Silhouette of hummingbird.

Hummingbirds: Hummingbirds use nectar as a carbohydrate source to fill the majority of their daily energetic needs. However, they also need amino acids, which they obtain by gleaning insects and spiders from vegetation or webs or by catching them in flight. Hummingbirds also visit sap wells in trees, which are holes created by yellow-bellied sapsuckers that weep sap. The hummingbirds feed on the sap and insects that are attracted to the sap. The ruby-throated hummingbird commonly nests throughout Ohio in trees and shrubs in low traffic areas. Other hummingbird species, such as the rufous hummingbird, may be seen during migration.

Line drawing of a bee.

Wild Bees: With an estimated 450 species in the state, Ohio hosts an impressive diversity of wild bees. Some species like bumble bees are social bees with a queen, workers, and drones, but most bees are solitary, nesting individually in tunnels in the ground or in broken twigs, hollow stems, or other cavities or tunnels. Bees are vegetarians, relying on flowers for nectar and pollen. Nectar is the carbohydrate source (flight fuel), while pollen provides protein, lipids, and other nutrients. Pollen is used primarily as food for juvenile bees.

Line drawing of bee with black head and black stripes.

Specialist Bees: About a third of all bee species are pollen specialists, meaning they rely on pollen from a narrow range of native plants as food for their juveniles. Approximately 100 species of wild bees in Ohio are thought to be pollen specialists. Nectar is a more general food, available to both specialist and generalist bees, so specialist bees may be seen visiting an assortment of plants for nectar.

Silhouette of butterfly.

Butterfly and Moth Adults: Many of Ohio’s butterfly and moth species (lepidopterans) depend on nectar as a carbohydrate source to fuel their adult activities. The nectar of some plant species also includes amino acids (protein building blocks) and lipids, both vital nutrients for butterflies and moths. Other food sources for butterflies include sap and decaying fruit. Some species of moths do not feed as adults.

Silhouette of caterpillar.

Butterfly and Moth Caterpillars: Butterfly and moth larvae, known as caterpillars, are phytophagous (plant eaters). Some have a narrow range of native plants they will eat, while others feed on a wider range of plant species, sometimes including non-natives. The plant(s) chosen by the adult females to lay eggs on, and later for the caterpillars to eat, are called host plants. Caterpillars play a vital role in the ecosystem as food for birds.

Silhouette of house.

Cover: Many trees and shrubs provide protective cover and potential nesting sites for birds. Certain plant species offer exceptional cover, due to branching structures, size, and other characteristics.


Birch (Betula spp.)

Black silhouettes of songbird, house, and caterpillar

Birch are cool-weather trees and generally do not adapt well to Ohio’s heat and humidity, with a few notable exceptions. For example, river birch (B. nigra) is commonly used as a landscape tree for its fall yellow foliage and peeling, salmon-colored bark. It is relatively tolerant of drier sites, despite its preference for wet soils. Birch fruits are cone-like catkins composed of tiny seeds. River birch fruits mature in late spring to early summer. The fruits of other native birch trees mature in fall. Both the fruits and buds of birch are eaten by a variety of songbirds, especially finches, and small mammals. Birch trees also host a wide variety of lepidopteran species (butterflies and moths). The genus Betula is one of the top tree genera for attracting caterpillars, an important food source for birds. Over 400 species of butterflies and moths lay their eggs on birch trees, including the mourning cloak butterfly and some of Ohio’s showiest moths, the cecropia, luna, and polyphemus moths. Both dead and live birch trees provide resources to woodpeckers. Dead, standing birch trees provide nesting sites for woodpeckers, and live birch trees are often tapped for sap by the yellow-breasted sapsucker, a migratory woodpecker found throughout much of Ohio. Sap wells, which are holes created by yellow-bellied sapsuckers, provide food for ruby-throated hummingbirds, sap-feeding butterflies, like the mourning cloak, and other insects. Mourning cloak butterflies are among the first to emerge in the spring because they overwinter as adults.

Smooth, green leaves growing along with green, fuzzy, cone-like growths out of thin tree branches. Medium close up of a tree with strips of white, papery bark peeling off.
Birch fruit. Photo by Wayne Longbottom. Peeling bark. Photo by mrbirder98.

Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, caterpillar, and line drawing of bee.

Black gum, also known as black tupelo, is a slow-growing, long-lived tree with attractive fall color. The leaves turn an array of scarlet, crimson, and orange in the fall, and the berries deepen to a dark blue on bright red stalks. Male and female flowers usually are on separate trees, so both sexes must be near one another for pollination to occur. Black gum is tolerant of drought and prefers more acidic soils. Larger trees provide protective cover for birds, and the horizontal, layered-limb structure of black gum is attractive as nesting sites for some songbirds. The dark blue berries can be too large for small songbirds but are ideal for many other birds such as thrushes, waxwings, and pileated woodpeckers. The berries don’t stay on the tree long after ripening. Berries that fall to the ground are eaten by birds and mammals. The blooms of black gum are not showy yet are important sources of nectar for many bees, including honey bees. Over two dozen lepidopterans use trees within the genus Nyssa as host plants.

Medium close up of shiny, bright, red and orange leaves and small clusters of purplish-blue berries growing among the leaves. Overhead view of green leaves with a narrow base, smooth edge, and a wide top that ends in a point.
Black gum fall color and berries. Photo by Adobe Stock. Black gum leaves are often egg-shaped with smooth margins. Photo by J. Clevinger.

Cherry and plum (Prunus spp.)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, hummingbird, bee, butterfly, and caterpillar

There are over 20 species of cherry and plum in the United States, and members of the genus are valuable wildlife resources. Many are small trees, though black cherry (P. serotina) grows 60 feet tall. Black cherry is fast-growing, prized for its wood, which is used to build furniture, and displays drooping clusters of white flowers in late spring. Chokecherry (P. virginiana) grows into a small tree or large shrub that boasts a similar spring display of blooms. For this reason, cherries are attractive ornamentals in landscapes and gardens. Prunus flowers, even those that are cultivated, are an important source of nectar and pollen in the spring for bees, such as mining bees and queen bumble bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. Pin cherry (P. pensylvanica) blooms earlier than other cherries, making it an important source of nectar and pollen in early spring. The genus also provides nectar for butterflies. It hosts over 450 lepidopteran species, ranking it as one of the top plant genera for caterpillars, second only to oaks (genus Quercus) (Tallamy & Shropshire, 2009). Showy butterflies and moths such as the Eastern tiger swallowtail, red-spotted purple, promethea moth, and the clearwing hummingbird moth, all lay eggs on cherry and plum trees.

The fruits of most cherries ripen in mid to late summer. Their abundance and small size are attractive to a variety of songbirds. American plum (P. americana), on the other hand, produces fruit that is too large for many songbirds to consume, though some birds do eat them, such as robins, catbirds, and downy woodpeckers. Members of the genus Prunus also provide protective cover and nesting sites to songbirds, especially chokecherry and American plum. When grown in thickets, plum trees provide exceptional cover for shrub nesting songbirds like mockingbirds and catbirds.

Overhead view of green leaves growing, with a cluster of white flowers growing at the end of the branch. Close up of small, glossy, dark-red berries growing in clusters from woody stems with green leaves.
Chokecherry in bloom. Photo by B. Whitely. Chokecherry fruit. Photo by Tom Scavo.

Crabapple (Malus spp.)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, hummingbird, bee, butterfly, and caterpillar

Crabapples are generally small trees with short trunks and low, widely spreading crowns. Wild crabapple (M. coronaria), or sweet crabapple, is the only native crabapple that grows across Ohio. Crabapples are commonly found in old fields, woodland clearings, or along road edges, but these are often non-native species that have naturalized in these spaces. Crabapples are popular in landscapes due to their flush of showy spring blooms and varied leaf colors, though most are cultivars of Asian species. Their fruits mature in late summer to fall, depending on the variety, and are small (2 inches or less in diameter), though some varieties produce larger fruit. The fruit of the native, wild crabapple is often too large for many songbirds, but is eaten by mammals. Non-native crabapples are widely available, and many species produce smaller berries that are eaten by songbirds. Some berries remain on the trees into the winter, providing food to overwintering birds. In addition, the dense growth of crabapples provides nest sites and protective cover for birds. Crabapples are heavily visited by an assortment of bees, including bumble bee queens, polyester bees, mining bees, and sweat bees. Hummingbirds feed on nectar from the blooms, and the genus hosts over 300 species of butterflies and moths (Tallamy & Shropshire, 2009).

Large, white-petaled flowers, and new red blossoms, growing from a tree branch. Small reddish apples with tinges of green grow among leaves and branches.
Wild crabapple in bloom. Photo by Melissa Kaspers Hapiro. Wild crabapple fruit. Photo by notev.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, hummingbird, bee, butterfly, and caterpillar

Eastern redbud is a small tree with a short trunk and a broad, arching form. It tolerates a small amount of shade. Heavily shaded trees grow poorly and produce fewer flowers. Clusters of pink-purple flowers line the twigs and branches of the Eastern redbud, providing exceptional aesthetic value. The small, rose-pink flowers appear before many other native plants leaf out in the spring, which is why many consider blooming redbuds the first sign of spring. Eastern redbud is used heavily by a wide variety of bees as an early-season source of nectar and pollen. The flowers require a strong bee to push down the lower petals to access the pollen or nectar, such as a mining bee, carpenter bee, bumble bee, or mason bee (Holm, 2017). Their flowers may also provide nectar to migrating hummingbirds. Large, heart-shaped leaves emerge after the flowers and turn bright yellow in the fall. Leafcutter bees often use the leaves to line the nests of their young. Redbud is host to less than two dozen butterflies and moths, including Henry’s elfin, a small butterfly that lays eggs on the buds and flowers of redbuds. The flowers also serve as the primary nectar source for adult Henry’s elfin butterflies and are one of several preferred foods of the zebra swallowtail butterfly and Juvenal’s duskywing. Eastern redbud is a legume that produces a pod from summer into the fall that holds several beanlike, flat, elliptical seeds. The seeds are high in protein and are a readily available food source for birds, though feeding has not been well-documented. Eastern redbuds provide unexceptional cover, though larger trees may provide short-term protective cover for songbirds.

Tree limbs completely filled with pink flowers. Close up of bumblebee collecting nectar and pollen from pink flowers blooming along the length of a woody branch.
Eastern redbud in bloom. Photo by Denise Ellsworth. Bumblebee on Eastern redbud. Photo by Heather Holm.

Eastern red cedar (Juniper virginiana)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, and caterpillar.

Despite its name, Eastern red cedar is not a true cedar, but a juniper. It is a small to medium-sized tree that is slow-growing and long-lived. It is perhaps the most common native conifer in Ohio and has important value in providing nesting sites and protective cover to wildlife. Small juncos and sparrows roost overnight in red cedar during the winter, while mourning doves, robins, and cardinals nest in the tree during the summer. Eastern red cedar produces small, pea-sized cones resembling berries in late summer that are soft and juicy. They are eaten by birds and small mammals, such as the cedar waxwing, a bird named for its relationship with the tree. The blue-gray “berries” contrasting against the forest-green foliage provide an attractive aesthetic to the landscape.

Bird with white chest, gray head, wings, and tail, and crest on head sits on end of conifer branch with small blue berries. Close up of greenish-white berries growing on a conifer.
Tufted titmouse perched in an Eastern red cedar. Photo by Adobe Stock. Eastern red cedar fruit. Photo by kalahica.

Flowering dogwood, pagoda dogwood (Cornus florida, C. alternifolia)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, bee with black stripes and head, line drawing of bee, butterfly, and caterpillar

The Midwest is home to several species of native dogwood, including two small, tree-sized species—alternate-leaf dogwood (C. alternifolia), also called pagoda dogwood, and flowering dogwood (C. florida). Dogwood leaves have a unique pattern. Their veins form arcs that follow the leaf’s shape toward its center. The veins of other trees’ leaves usually grow toward the sides of their leaves. In the fall, the leaves turn red and burgundy. Both flowering and alternate-leaf dogwood grow well in a mix of sun and shade, though fruit and flower production increase with more sunlight. The blooms of flowering dogwood seem larger than they really are due to four large, white bracts (modified leaves growing at the base of a flower or fruit). The actual flowers are small, yellowish-green, and located in the center of the arrangement of bracts. Alternate-leaf dogwood flowers are small, white, flat-topped, and grow in upright clusters at the end of branches. Flowering dogwood flowers bloom in the spring while pagoda dogwood flowers bloom in late spring.

Flowers provide an early source of nectar and pollen to lepidopterans such as the American snout butterfly and to bees, including small sweat bees and pollen specialist bees. The genus Cornus hosts over 100 different caterpillars, or lepidopteran species, including the spring azure butterfly. In late summer and into fall, the glossy, red fruit of the flowering dogwood, and the black-blue berries of the alternate-leaf dogwood, are quickly consumed by mammals and larger songbirds, such as thrushes. Cover for birds is limited in both these tree dogwoods, though their branch configurations can be attractive to nesting thrushes. Bird cover is better in the shrub varieties of these dogwoods.

Overhead view of leaves with distinctive veins that travel from each leaf’s midline toward the top edge of each leaf, and clusters of whitish flowers growing above the leaves. Close up of four-petaled, white flowers with green stamens growing from the end of a woody branch.
Alternative-leaf dogwood in bloom. Photo by tw865. Flowering dogwood blooms. Photo by Denise Ellsworth.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, hummingbird, bee, butterfly, and caterpillar

There are several species of hawthorns native to Ohio, but differentiating between species is challenging. Generally, hawthorns are small trees with short trunks and broad, dense branching patterns. They grow best in full sun, where they have the most abundant fruit and flower production. Flowers are white, showy, and attract bees, lepidopterans, and hummingbirds. The fruit that grows in the fall is usually bright red and abundant. As their name implies, most hawthorns have thorns or spines, though some varieties are thornless such as the thornless cockspur hawthorn (C. crus-galli var. inermis). However, their thorns and dense growth make hawthorns important and effective wildlife cover in terms of nesting sites and protection. During the nesting season, the fruits are not highly preferred by songbirds, especially the larger fruits of the downy hawthorn (C. mollis). Robins, cedar waxwings, cardinals, and other songbirds consume the small fruits of other hawthorn species in late winter. Hawthorns are larval hosts for over 100 lepidopterans, including several species of hairstreak butterflies, and the red-spotted purple butterfly (Tallamy & Shropshire, 2009).

Clusters of bright red berries growing among leaves with serrated edges. A cluster of white flowers with five broad petals surrounded by leaves with serrated edges growing from tree branches.
Hawthorn fruit. Photo by Irmela Levin. Downy hawthorn in bloom. Photo by Tim Allsup.

Maple (Acer spp.)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, hummingbird, bee, and caterpillar



Maples are a commercially valuable species in Ohio, especially hard maples such as sugar maple (A. saccharum) and black maple (A. nigrum), which are used for making furniture and maple syrup. As the name implies, hard maples have hard, strong, close-grained wood whereas soft maples, such as red maple (A. rubrum) and silver maple (A. saccharinum), have softer wood. Maples are used frequently as ornamentals, are large shade trees, and display impressive fall foliage. Red and silver maples are an important early-season source of nectar and pollen for overwintering bees when few other plants and maples, such as sugar, have yet to bloom. Maple tree sap attracts butterflies that feed in sap, such as the red admiral, mourning cloak, eastern comma, and question mark butterflies. Sap wells created by yellow-bellied sapsuckers also attract migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds.

The fruit of maples is a winged samara, which can serve as a backup food source to birds during years of low seed and nut crops. Seed availability is extended when both hard and soft maples are present in an area as hard maples produce fruit later in the season (summer and fall) than soft maples, which produce fruit in the late spring and early summer. Birds visit maples to eat buds and caterpillars. Acer species host nearly 300 species of butterflies and moths (Tallamy & Shropshire, 2009). Maples also provide nesting sites to a variety of birds, especially cavity-nesting birds—from the small, great-crested flycatcher to the large, barred owl. Older maple trees, especially silver maples, tend to form cavities with age.

Clusters of brown seed pods growing among scalloped green leaves. Close up view of front of green leaves with three pointed lobes.
Sugar maple leaves and fruit. Photo by Denise Ellsworth. Red maple leaves. Photo by Rachel Wallen.

Oak (Quercus spp.)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, hummingbird, bee, and caterpillar

Oaks are one of the most important hardwood trees in the Northern hemisphere (Weeks et al., 2010). Their durability and longevity make them great landscape trees, their strength classifies them among the most valuable hardwood lumber, and they are valuable to many species of wildlife. Oaks produce acorns, which are high in fat and protein, in the fall. Those acorns are a staple food source in many wildlife species’ diets. Large mammals such as deer, small mammals like squirrels and mice, and birds such as blue jays, woodpeckers, wild turkey, and wood ducks, all consume, and at times rely heavily on acorns in their diet. As host plants, the oak genus supports over 500 species of butterflies and moths across the country, including the banded hairstreak, Juvenal’s duskywing, imperial moth, and the waved sphinx moth (Tallamy & Shropshire, 2009). Several showier moths, such as the io and polyphemus moth, also use oak trees as host plants. Many songbirds that breed in Ohio depend on arthropods—especially caterpillars—for all or part of their diets. This makes oaks, and the caterpillars they attract, a valuable resource for birds. Though oaks are wind-pollinated, their catkins are visited by many species of bees in search of pollen. Mature oaks often form cavities and other microhabitats (i.e., bark splits and hollows) that supply shelter and nesting sites for birds, mammals, and invertebrates. Oaks vary across species in terms of the site conditions they require, their size, and their ornamental value. There are many that provide landscape appeal. When selecting a site, consider the potential for a heavy acorn drop.

Medium close up of red and green leaves with deep lobes growing on the end of a branch. Close up of a squirrel sitting on a branch holding an acorn in its mouth.
White oak leaves. Photo by Kathy Smith. A gray squirrel eating an acorn. Photo by Adobe Stock.

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, butterfly, caterpillar, and line drawing of bee.

Red buckeye is rarely found growing naturally in Ohio but has been successfully planted as an ornamental tree north of its range. It has brilliant red, upright flowers, is tolerant of cold and wind, and grows well in moist soils. Red buckeyes prefer a mix of sun and shade, and often grow well along woodland edges. Their large clusters of flowers bloom in late spring, growing up to 8 inches long. They provide nectar to lepidopterans and serve as an important nectar resource for migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds. The fruits of the red buckeye are enclosed in a spinless capsule. Buckeyes are not highly valuable to wildlife, but they are occasionally cached as winter food by squirrels. The nuts are toxic to humans but not to squirrels. Over two dozen lepidopterans use the genus Aesculus as host trees.

Hummingbird hovering in front of one red flower growing among a cluster of them. Clusters of red, blooming flowers grow from the ends of branches with oblong-shaped, green leaves.
A male, ruby-throated hummingbird hovers near a red buckeye. Photo by Susanna Heideman. Red buckeye flowers. Photo by Denise Ellsworth.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, bee, and caterpillar.



Serviceberries are small, understory trees with showy, white clusters of flowers that bloom in the spring. The two species that are most widespread in Ohio are downy (A. arborea) and Allegheny serviceberry (A. laevis). Both grow as a multistemmed tree or large shrub, though pruning to create a main trunk can be done if a small tree is desired. Serviceberries are tolerant of both shade and sun and are usually free from insect or disease problems. Flowers supply an early source of nectar and pollen to bees such as mining bees and small sweat bees. The open flower shape allows big and small bees to access the nectar (Holm, 2017). Serviceberries host over 100 distinct species of butterflies and moths and provide cover to some species of birds. Their most important resource for birds, however, is their fruit. Their pink berries ripen to a blue-purple color earlier in the summer than most native berries, making them an early source of sugar and lipid-rich food for birds. The berries are favored by many species of birds, such as robins, catbirds, cedar waxwings, orioles, and thrushes. The fruit is also edible to humans and is similar in appearance and flavor to blueberries.

Clusters of white flowers grow on small tree with multiple branches growing from the base that form a wide, half-circle canopy. Honey bee collecting nectar and pollen from white flowers.
Serviceberry in bloom. Photo by Denise Ellsworth. A bee (genus Andrena) on serviceberry flowers. Photo by Heather Holm.

Tuliptree/Yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Black silhouettes of a songbird, house, hummingbird, bee, butterfly, and caterpillar

Tuliptree is also known as yellow-poplar or tulip poplar. When grown in open areas, it is a large tree with a straight trunk and a broad, oblong crown. It grows best in full sun and is not tolerant of shade. Tuliptree is fairly disease- and insect-resistant but is sensitive to heat stress. Despite the common name yellow-poplar, it is a member of the magnolia family. The leaves are tulip-shaped, and the flowers are one of the showiest of native Ohio trees, although they often bloom high in the canopy and can be hidden from sight from below. The flowers are tulip-shaped and greenish yellow in color with vivid orange inner spots. They are roughly 1.5–2 inches in length and width, and bloom at the end of branches in early summer after the leaves appear. Tulip tree flowers offer pollen and nectar to ruby-throated hummingbirds, lepidopterans, and an assortment of bees. Tuliptree is one of the host plants of the showy eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly and the large, vividly patterned tuliptree silkmoth. The fruit is a 3-inch-long, cone-like cluster of many one- or two-seeded samaras that are wind-dispersed in the fall. Overwintering birds, such as finches, and squirrels, feed on the seeds. Mature tulip trees offer protective cover and nesting sites to songbirds.

Multiple flowers with large yellow, orange, and green petals grow among green leaves on tree branches. Close up of moth with large, spread wings with distinctive brown markings and small “eyes” on the upper tips of its wings, on a tree trunk.
Tuliptree flowers. Photo by Adobe Stock. Tuliptree silkmoth. Photo by Adobe Stock.

Willow (Salix spp.)

Black silhouettes of a house, bee with black stripes and head, line drawing of bee, and caterpillar


Several species of willow grow large enough to be considered trees, such as black willow (S. nigra) and the smaller peachleaf willow (S. amygdaloides). Both species prefer wet sites, as do most willows, and are found growing in wet woods and along the edges of streams, lakes, and marshes. Despite its preference for wet sites, black willow is also adaptable to uplands and is drought resistant. Black willow often has a short, crooked trunk with a spreading irregular crown. Its branches are brittle and susceptible to damage from wind and ice. Therefore, it should not be planted near buildings. Peachleaf willow offers ornamental appeal due to its shaggy bark and attractive fall yellow foliage. Willow flowers are slender, upright, and appear in spring, making them an important early-season source of nectar and pollen for bees. There are many pollen-specialist bees, such as species of mining bees, which depend on willow pollen to feed their young. Male and female flowers can grow on separate plants. Their small, cottony seeds mature within cone-shaped capsules in midsummer and are dispersed by the wind.

The genus Salix is at the top of the host plant list for butterflies and moths. Over 450 species of lepidopterans lay their eggs on willow species (Tallamy & Shropshire, 2017). Willows are second only to oaks and Prunus species (cherry and plum) in the number of caterpillars they support. In addition to many moths, several showy butterflies, such as the viceroy, red-spotted purple, and the mourning cloak, use willows as host plants. The rich caterpillar community in willows also serves as an important food source for birds. In addition, willows supply important cover for birds in aquatic areas. Species like red-winged blackbirds, eastern kingbirds, and yellow warblers nest in willows that grow in dense stands along waterways. Black willows are short-lived, resulting in dead, standing trees that are used by cavity-nesting birds like downy woodpeckers, tree swallows, and prothonotary warblers.

Tree branch with long, thin leaves and long, string-like, green clusters of seeds. Close up of a bee on a small whitish flower with reddish stamens budding directly off a woody stem.
Black willow fruit. Photo by Denver Kramer. A bee (genus Andrena) on willow bloom. Photo by Heather Holm.

Don’t Let Good Intentions Go Bad!Exterior brick wall with three, large, vertical, glass windows reflecting a clear picture of bare limbed trees, and a small, black bird lying dead on the ground at the base of the wall.

Every year in the United States, roughly 1 billion birds die after hitting windows, and nearly half of those are collisions with home windows. Homeowners are rarely aware of these collisions as injured birds may fly away to die elsewhere or be eaten by a predator (cat, raccoon, fox, or dog) before being found. Attracting songbirds into a landscape also should include making windows bird-safe. Focus on windows that reflect plants, are near bird feeders or baths, or where collisions already have occurred. Bird-scare tape, decals, and paint can be applied to windows to repel birds in a way that causes little to no light and visual disruption to humans. More information can be found at the American Bird Conservancy’s website,


Check out the following resources for more information on how shrubs and trees can be incorporated into a home landscape to attract pollinators:


Holm, H. (2017) Bees: An identification and native plant forage guide. Pollination Press Llc.

Tallamy, D.W., & Shropshire, K.J. (2009). Ranking lepidopteran use of native versus introduced plants. Conservation Biology, 23(4), 941–947.

Weeks, S. S., & Weeks H. P. (2012). Shrubs and woody vines of Indiana and the Midwest: identification, wildlife values, and landscaping use. Purdue University Press.

Want to learn how to use native shrubs to create living landscapes? Check out Native Shrubs: Creating Living Landscapes for Birds, Butterflies, Bees, and Other Beneficials.

Originally posted May 2, 2023.