Bird photos by Jon Graham
For the joy of a garden filled with birdsong, young fledglings,
butterflies, bees, and year-round beauty, make native trees the backbone
of your landscape. Native trees have evolved as an integral part of
the local food chain and are ideally suited to water and temperature
fluctuations of the mid-south. Oaks and hickories, magnolias, pines,
maples, birch and beech give us wind protection and welcoming shade,
hold soil in place and provide food and nesting sites for birds, insects
When selecting trees and shrubs, ponder this: 96% of all terrestrial birds depend on insects for food.
This includes our backyard songbirds. Berries and seeds, no matter how
abundant, are not enough. Birds require the dense protein and fat of
caterpillars, mosquitoes, flies and other insects to reproduce, raise
their young, and have the strength to migrate. Baby birds in the nest
only eat juicy insect life. Their busy parents flying to and fro need
substantive protein and fat, too!
The chickadees at your feeder this winter may consume bushels of
sunflower seeds, but come summer, they will be searching for insect
protein. Chickadees rear their young exclusively on caterpillars. How
many caterpillars does it take to produce a nest of chickadees?….10,000
caterpillars to fledge a single clutch! Multiply this by all the
chickadees, robins, bluebirds, cardinals, woodpeckers, finches,
sparrows… and we see the need to provide nature’s host trees for the
insect food of our beloved songbirds.
Let’s welcome birds by planting the natives they are hoping to find
when choosing a home. They will reward us many times over with their
beauty, song, and insatiable appetite for insects we consider pests.
and fruit are relished as part of a bird’s diet – and no fruit is as
nutritious and perfectly evolved to entice our songbirds as those on
native shrubs and trees. Acorns, hickories, beechnuts and seeds from
maples, birch, and pine are eagerly harvested by birds and mammals
Butterfly larvae and adults are also attracted by native trees. Consider that our native Oaks support 534 different butterfly and moth species, Black Cherry supports 456, Hickory 200, Birch 413, Willow 455….to name only a few.
Combine these caterpillars and other insects, nuts, berries, seeds
and fruit, along with nesting sites and you have a treasure trove for
wildlife with even a small number of native trees.
There are many striking flowering specimens of large and small natives. Consider Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea)
with its 12” long panicles of fragrant white blooms in spring, loved
for its nectar by hummingbirds and bees; mature height and spread of
Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
perfumes the air from April-June with lemon-scented white blossoms,
followed by dark red seed follicles with bright red berries; 15 to 20’.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis)
is a graceful, multi-stemmed understory tree with early spring white
flowers followed by delicious (to birds and people alike) black berries,
and red fall leaves – Could one ask for anything more?
Other small to medium native trees include: Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) with large white bracts, ‘chocolate-drop’ flower buds, red berries, and red fall foliage.
PawPaw (Asimina triloba)
– large obovate leaves and delicious yellow strawberry-banana fruit;
larval host for the TN state butterfly, Zebra Swallowtail.
Redbud (Cercis canadensis) – bright pink
tiny pea-blossoms running along zig-zag twigs; seedpods provide food for
birds and small mammals through the winter.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – a multitude of tiny yellow blossoms heralding spring; larval host for the Spicebush Swallowtail.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
–fragrant early blooms; lobed leaves like mittens turning yellow,
orange, and red in fall; blue berries relished by birds; the source of
spicy sassafras tea.
For an evergreen screen to replace invasive alien privet, look to: Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) – Red berries contrast vividly with narrow, glossy evergreen leaves, amenable to pruning; and Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) – rugged peeling red bark, fragrant dense needle-like foliage and blue berry-like cones favored by birds.
are but a sample of the abundant native trees to choose from for your
own welcoming bird, butterfly and joy-filled garden.
Recommended reading: The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy, 2014 Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy, 2007
Dirr App 2007; Native Trees of the Southeast, Kirkman, Brown, Leopold
2007; Eastern Trees Peterson Field Guides, Petrides, Wehr 1998; Bringing
Nature Home, Tallamy 2007; The Living Landscape, Darke, Tallamy 2014;
The American Woodland Garden, Darke 2002; Fall Color and Woodland
Harvests, Bell, Lindsey1990
For updates and more!
Central Daylight Time Hours:
9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Central Standard Time (Winter) Hours:
9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
We are located at:
750 Cherry Road
Memphis, TN 38117
(Between Park & Southern)