by Timothy Kane

It is true…many American Beauties Native Plants® are for the birds. There are numerous American Beauties Native Plants® that are crucial when it comes to attracting birds to the home landscape by providing shelter as well as food sources to keep them healthy throughout the year. It is definitely hard to narrow this list down but here are four suggestions that every bird lover’s landscape should contain or reference our complete list of “Native Plants for Birds Collection”.

Lobelia cardinalis – cardinal flower

Hummingbirds are loved by gardeners and the cardinal red flowers of cardinal flower bloom throughout the summer on tall spikes that attract loads of nectar seeking hummingbirds, native butterflies and moths such as the Spicebush Swallowtail, the Greater Black Letter Dart and the Red Banded Leafroller Moth just to name a few.

Let’s see. Cardinal flowers attract butterflies, moths and hummingbirds because of its sweet nectar in summer and its incredibly attractive, long blooming, perfect for grouping at the mid or back of any garden, thrives in half to full day sun and thrives in moist areas.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia – Virginia creeper

Parthenocissus quinquefolia or Virginia creeper is one of the best native vines and one of the least thought about vines by homeowners when it comes to supporting native birds. This incredibly easy to grow plant is native to all of the eastern two thirds of the country, is hardy to Zone 3 and thrives in any full sun to full shade exposure.

Maybe this vine has been ignored because of its tendency to be mistaken for another native vine, poison ivy. While the leaflets of each plant look similar, the two plants are easy to distinguish with poison ivy displaying leaflets in sets of three while Virginia creeper displays leaflets in sets of five. Also, fortunately, there are no tortuous rashes associated with Virginia creeper.

Virginia creeper has a characteristic that makes it outstanding for use on walls and trellis structures. This vine will adhere strongly to a structure without destroying it like other climbing vines have been known to do. It does this with unique tendrils that end in a ‘suction cup-like’ structure that excretes an adhesive that allows it to strongly attach to a wall, building or trellis without infiltrating and ruining them.

There are so many desirable characteristics that make Virginia creeper a great landscape fit. Along with being easy to grow, its dark green leaflets show off wonderfully throughout the spring and summer but especially in fall when they turn a brilliant red color as the weather cools. While its flowers are insignificant from a beauty standpoint, they lead to a massive crop of persistent, dark blue berries that are sought out by many native birds throughout the winter months while they last providing a dependable food source at a time of year when sources can be scarce.

Virginia creeper is also a host plant for an array of different Sphinx Moths. This means that these various Sphinx Moth larvae need to consume this plant’s foliage to complete their life cycle. This fact is not lost on your yard’s native birds who, in the spring and summer months, are working hard to find live food like the caterpillars of these native moths to feed their voracious young. In fact, Virginia creeper not only supports birds summer, fall and winter food needs, it also is a preferred nesting spot for many of these same birds. Not a bad package for a plant that can be overlooked when it comes to planning a native fauna supporting landscape!

Quercus coccinea – scarlet oak

There are no plants more crucial to support pollinators and native mammals than oak trees. In the words of no less of an authority than nationally renowned entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy, oak trees are ‘Keystone Plants’ that are an essential component to support rafts of native species populations especially in the suburban deserts that have been created over the last 70 years in the U.S.
oaks are especially critical supporting native butterflies and moths along with native birds. It has been determined that over 500 species of native moths and butterflies count on oak trees as a host plant. All those species mean a whole lot of caterpillars, a key link in the food chain for native birds.

There are literally millions of bird lovers who feed birds throughout the year in their yards but it is lesser known that, in order for these birds to raise their young successfully, live food in the form of caterpillars are irreplaceable. Birds need literally hundreds of caterpillars a day to get their fledglings from hatch to adulthood. That fact alone makes oak trees a starting point for any native fauna supporting home landscape. Add in the nesting and cover they provide for so many of our native birds and it is easy to see why oaks are truly keystone plants.

There are a number of great native oak species but scarlet oak stands out in so many ways. Large growing with a broad, open form, straight trunk and sturdy branches, scarlet oak is easy to grow and a spectacular specimen to anchor any landscape. Its deep green, glossy foliage is deeply cut and attractive especially in the fall when its deep green changes to brilliant scarlet. It also produces a bumper acorn crop that helps support the diet of loads of native mammals in summer, fall and winter.

Ilex verticillata – winterberry

There are a number or great native plants that recede to the background most of the year only to surprise us yearly with a spectacular show in the landscape. Winterberry is one of those plants. While it possesses pleasing, deep green foliage in the spring and summer months, it is really somewhat nondescript from late winter to fall. Then the fireworks begin.

The fireworks take the form of brilliant red berries that cover winterberry branches in bunches by mid-fall. It seems like these berries just suddenly appear but, in truth, they have been preparing for their show since late spring. This is the time that winterberry blooms with bunches of tiny greenish-white flowers and also the time when we discover that not all winterberry are created the same.

Winterberry are, in fact, dioecious meaning that female flowers and male flowers appear on separate plants. Only plants with female flowers get berries but without male plants present they will not. As a result, it is imperative to have at least one male variety present for up to 6 female plants nearby to get those berries we suddenly notice in mid to late fall.

Humans are not the only ones that notice and treasure winterberry. Over thirty varieties of native moths and butterflies count winterberry as their host plant. With all those caterpillars available in spring and summer, it is a sure thing that lots of native birds notice winterberry as a great source for the caterpillars they need for raising their young. It is easy to see that, even without their brilliant red berries, winterberry add tons of value to a native species supporting landscape.

Winterberry is an easy to grow plant and is perfect for naturalizing in moist areas, along field borders or the edges of open properties. Thickets of these plants are a hot bed for bird and insect activity and provide great cover and nesting for many native bird species. And, you will be happy to know, those stunning red berries you love are, also, highly sought after by these same birds in the winter months after they have fully ripened and softened. It is one of the reasons why, by spring, winterberry has slipped from our notice once again, laying in wait to thrill us with its berry color as the year is waning in fall.