Imagine watching a butterfly alight on the purple flowers of a New England aster. Nearby, a bee lands on the bright red flowers of a bee balm, its wings making a gentle hum in the morning. In the blueberry bush, a robin chirps filling the day with song. This may sound like a scene in the woods, but it could be and frequently is, someone’s backyard. As habitat continues to disappear, bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife face increasing challenges. Planting food sources and providing habitat can go a long way to helping threatened and endangered wildlife. This article will feature several native plants and the animals that depend on them.
As was discussed in the previous article, bees are major pollinators for a number of agricultural crops and are in serious trouble due to phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. A number of butterflies, including the Karner Blue, are also endangered or in decline As monarchs migrate north from Mexico in the spring, they need both resting places as well as milkweed plants, which are the only ones where they lay their eggs. Migratory birds need both stopover and nesting areas as they head back north. Flowering plants provide nectar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Shrubs and taller plants can provide berries, fruit, and nesting places for birds and mammals. Eliminating pesticides from gardens and lawns is also important. While it may seem that a larger yard is required for this, even a community plot or small balcony can provide space for habitat.
According to Native Plants of the Northeast, Donald J. Leopold, Timber Press 2005, some of the best plants for attracting wildlife include:
Bee balm (monarda didyma) Beebalm has beautiful red flowers and blooms through July and August. Its leaves can also be used for tea which was a remedy for the Native Americans.
Swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata) Swamp milkweed needs moist to wet soil, has pink flowers, and as was mentioned above, is in the milkweed family which are the only plants on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs.
Butterfly weed (asceplias tuberosa) Butterfly weed is, as its name implies, popular with many butterfly species and has orange flowers. It should not be confused with butterfly bush, which is invasive.
Purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea) The coneflower also blooms through most of the summer and it is the plant from which echinacea tea is derived.
Asters ( aster divaricatus, ericoides, novae angliae, and novi -belgii) There are several species of asters which attract pollinators and bloom throughout the summer.
Blue lupine (lupinus perennis) Blue lupine has purple flowers and is the sole food source for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.
Strawberry (waldsteinia fragarioides) Strawberries are a low growimg plant, but they spead and do require some space.
Blueberry (vaccinum angustifolium and corymbosum) Both strawberries and blueberries attract birds. If gardeners would like some fruit for themselves, some plants can be netted and others left alone to provide a compromise.
This list focuses on plants native to the Northeast, due to this the being the region where the majority of my readership is based. However, people can go to the National Wildlife Federation (www.wf.og) and look up Native Plant Finder to find the best plants for their region.
Bees, butterflies, and humming birds are important pollinators for many wild flowers and food crops. Birds can fill gardens with song and are also important predators of many pests. Nevertheless, many of these species are in trouble due to pesticides and habitat loss. Providing the food and habitat they need can be an important step to helping the environment as well as creating a place of color and life for all to see. Happy spring!