by Tim Kane

As Spring rolls along, the sun is higher in the sky and all of us are focused on the coming season with more than a bit of anticipation. This anticipation, known in some circles as spring fever, is very real and more acute the more you love plants and getting to work with them in the early spring garden.

Early native pollinators have their own version of spring fever and are out there during these lengthening days on the hunt for pollen and nectar sources. Just as you yearn and need those first fulfilling, warmish days in the garden, early pollinators have those same wants and needs and are looking to your yard to provide them with these needs. Is your yard ready??

Many of us think about pollinator activity later in the spring, summer and but tend to forget that early pollen providing plants are also many of the same plants supporting the life cycles of so many native birds, bees and butterflies. Let’s take a look at a few great American Beauties Native Plants® that are essential plants for early pollinators and will add early pollinator power and beauty to your landscape.


Trees are an essential part of any pollinator supporting garden and tend to be overlooked. Why? Great question! Maybe it is because we take them for granted because trees feel so ‘long term’ and not a part of the eye level landscape view. Whatever the reason, trees are so crucial to any native pollinator supporting garden, it may be time to rethink native trees and make a better effort to include them in our overall landscape thoughts and plans.

Acer rubrum - red maple

Acer rubrum or red maple is one of the easiest to grow trees in the eastern landscape and extremely rewarding. As a homeowner, you will love it for its form, its minimal care need, its ability to grow and thrive in moist soils and its riveting red to scarlet fall foliage color. Even better, red maple is one of the earliest trees to bloom in the landscape and sought out by a range of native pollinators like Bumble Bees, Cellophane Bees, Mining Bees and Sweat Bees all on the prowl for the early nectar these flowers provide.

Red maple is not just an early, one and done pollinator supporter. It is a host plant for approximately 280 species of native butterflies and moths including the Cecropia Silk Moth and the Rosy Maple Moth. The larva of all these Moths and Butterflies, in turn, support the lifecycle of a number of native birds who need a hefty supply of caterpillars to support their broods. No wonder red maple is such bird favorite for nesting, cover and food…it’s like a bird cafeteria with shelter from the elements!

Acer saccharum - sugar maple

Acer saccharum or sugar maple blooms a couple weeks later than red maple but it is just as crucial when it comes to early pollinator support and being a host plant for native moths and butterflies. Sugar maple is a host for over 225 native species of Lepidoptera including Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Mourning Cloaks. All those caterpillars are bound to draw a crowd of native birds and draw it does with Finches, Nuthatches, Grosbeaks and more nesting and raising families in this trees branches. And, don’t forget, Honey Bees, Bumble Bees, Cellophane Bees, Mining Bees and Sweat Bees all are buzzing around this tree’s small green flowers in April to get their share of its nectar.

Sugar maple is also one of the most iconic landscape trees in the northeast, well known for its stately form, its incredible display of yellow and orange fall foliage shade and, of course, its contribution to breakfasts everywhere, maple syrup derived from its sap. Despite all these great qualities, it is important to point out that sugar maple is not as versatile as redmaple for landscape use. It hates road salt and deteriorates rapidly as a street side tree as evidenced by the many dead to dying trees along city streets in many northern towns and villages, and dislikes the moist areas in which red maple can thrive. But, grown in a yard away from the road in a well drained location, there are few trees that are its equal.

Cercis canadensis - Eastern redbud

Cercis canadensis, or Eastern redbud, is one of the great, smaller size native trees and it has become immensely popular in the last few years for homeowners. There certainly is a lot to like with this wide spreading beauty that grows 20-25’ tall by 25-30’ wide at maturity especially that it can be a smaller tree closer to the house landscape with its more manageable size. Its most remarkable, eye catching trait is its late April/early May bloom that comes before it foliage emerges. Small, vivid purple flowers line its branches providing a unique look and riveting landscape color. Large, nearly round, deep green foliage emerges as flowers are going by in mid-May providing great texture and outstanding yellow fall color later in the year.

Redbud is a host plant for 20+ native butterflies and moths like Henry’s Elfin Butterfly and White Flannel Moth while providing a whole raft of bees an early supply of pollen and nectar including Honey Bees, Bumble Bees, Mason Bees, Cuckoo Bees, Long Horned Bees, Mining Bees and Sweat Bees. The larva from the hosted native butterflies and moths attract a crowd of hungry native birds and also will attract seed feeding birds like Quail, Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Turkeys to feast on the seed produced by this tree’s spent flowers.