by Timothy Kane - Prides Corner Farms Inventory and Marketing Manager
When the American Beauties brand was formulated over 15 years ago, the concept of using native plants to landscape and the idea of supporting native pollinators with that landscape was not in the forefront of the consumer mind. However, in the last 5 to 7 years, there has been an influx of more environmentally aware consumers to the market that have taken the prominent news headlines outlining the dangerous decline of some pollinator populations to heart. As a result, the desire to use native plants and create suburban safe harbors for pollinators in the home landscape has skyrocketed.
Doug Tallamy, PhD, Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, has been the leading voice in the movement advocating increased use of native plants in the home landscape. He is the unquestioned authority when it comes to quantifying the importance of native trees in a pollinator friendly, diversity rich native landscape. In his best-selling book, “Bringing Nature Home”, Tallamy convincingly lays out the case for all native trees but concentrates on those that bring the most ‘bang for the buck’ when it comes to supporting caterpillars and a strong native food chain.
American Beauties Native Plants® shares Dr. Tallamy’s belief in native trees and has made them an essential offering as part of its array of native plants available to Independent Garden Centers. Foremost in that selection are Oak Trees. Tallamy calls the Oak Tree a ‘Keystone Plant’ or a plant that supports the most biodiversity. No matter what the species, the Oak supports 500+ species of caterpillars and is essential to the life cycle of these native moth and butterfly species. Whether it is Quercus alba (White Oak), Quercus bicolor (Swamp White Oak), Quercus coccinea (Scarlet Oak), Quercus palustris (Pin Oak) or Quercus rubra (Red Oak), all offered in the American Beauties plant selection, any homeowner looking to create their own pollinator oasis should have an Oak tree anchoring that planting.
Obviously, there are a limited amount of trees you can add to a home landscape, especially on a small suburban tract, but there are certainly other great native trees to consider from a beauty and biodiversity adding stand point. Maples like Acer rubrum (Red Maple) and Acer saccharum (Sugar Maple) are famous for their fiery red and orange fall foliage colors but they also support nearly 300 species of native moth and butterfly larva according to Tallamy. Even better, they also provide a very early season nectar source for the adult form of these species as they bloom from late February into April.
Betula nigra is one of the most durable selections of Birch tree available to homeowners in the America Beauties Native Plants® lineup. Prized for its cinnamon colored, exfoliating bark and its easy to grow nature, this selection also supports 400+ species of native moth and butterfly larva. ‘Heritage’ is an improved, naturally occurring selection of Betula nigra with even more stunning bark in creamy white mixed with orange hues that are especially stunning in the winter landscape. Available in multi-stem form also, this Birch is an all-around native landscape winner and a slightly smaller scale tree that may work well in less expansive yards.
Tilia americana (American Linden) is another great, multi-purpose native tree to consider for your pollinator paradise. This selection boasts tidy but large form and deep green foliage that is the perfect host for nearly 150 native moth and butterfly larva. What really makes American Linden stand out is its nectar appeal when the tree is in bloom in June or early July. Native pollinators are magnetically drawn to its small yellow flowers in droves making this tree a moth/butterfly, pollinator and bird supporting triple treat in the native landscape. You will also prize its beautiful yellow fall foliage color.
Other outstanding native trees to consider are Malus (Crabapples), Cherries (Prunus americana or Prunus viginiana), Pines (Pinus strobus), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and Hickory (Carya ovata & others). Each of these trees, in addition to those trees explained in more detail above, are great caterpillar host plants with a lot of landscape appeal. They will be the anchors for your pollinator oasis and provide one of the means to establish a living landscape that is teeming with native moths, butterflies, birds and pollinators.