In the South, fall is the ideal season for planting trees. Our moderate winters allow their roots time to develop before facing summer heat and drought.
If you are planting a new tree in your yard, consider which kind will add the most value — not only for looks, but also for the birds and wildlife.
Not All Trees Are Equal
Did you know that an oak tree and its acorns feed more than 100 kinds of animals, from foxes to squirrels to blue jays, or that the leaves of oak trees are the food for more than 500 species of butterfly caterpillars? This is surprisingly important, since caterpillars are the main food for baby songbirds, which cannot eat seeds. And, our commonly undervalued pine tree supports 205 species!
A crape myrtle, in contrast, supports only three species of butterflies (https://bit.ly/3RA1MG6). Like many foreign, or nonnative, plants used in landscaping, crape myrtles create a virtual dead zone for wildlife.
This is not to say you shouldn’t plant nonnative trees. However, when possible, do consider alternatives that make your yard more welcome for birds, bees and butterflies. Your choice can have a surprising impact in supporting songbirds and other small animals that are part of our natural community.
Beautiful Landscape Alternatives
Choosing a native tree or shrub means you are helping the butterflies, pollinators and small wildlife that have adapted to it over thousands of years. Here are some alternatives to three common nonnative landscape trees:
- Crape myrtle native alternative: sourwood or smoke trees.
- Bradford pear native alternative: dogwood or white redbud.
- Leyland cypress native alternative: Eastern arborvitae or Eastern red cedar.
Additional Flowering Native Trees
• Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum)
• Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia)
• Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
• Grancy graybeard or fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
• Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
• Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
• Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
• Two-winged silverbell (Halesia diptera)
For a complete list of native alternatives to common landscape trees and plants, visit https://bit.ly/3KFR66Q. You might not find your chosen tree at the nearest nursery, but there are a number of sources in our area. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/3cKJS4W.
The National Wildlife Federation, through which Eagle Watch was certified as Cherokee County’s first Community Wildlife Habitat, offers budget-friendly plant collections of native flowers, which feed birds and pollinators suited for our zip code: https://gardenforwildlife.com.
Spend a little extra time doing the research, and you will be rewarded with a beautiful tree and landscape that enhances your property — and also supports and restores the birds and small wildlife we enjoy here in Towne Lake.
– Ann Litrel is an artist and certified Master Naturalist. She instructs nature journal workshops and paints in her studio, Ann Litrel Art, in Towne Lake.