Selecting the Best Shrubs for Wildlife

 The fundamental basis of having a wildlife friendly yard is adherence to the doctrine of selecting mainly plants that maximize benefits to wildlife.  So try to avoid impulse buying of pretty flowers at a local big box store and come home with a bunch of plants that have little or no relevance to the life histories of the animals you hope to attract.  My favorite bad examples are roses up north and tropical hibiscus in southern Florida, which do not attract butterflies or birds.  



The viburnums are a group of shrubs that are dynamite for wildlife.  A wonderful native viburnum is arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) and we have planted many primarily for their small fruits which birds love; they also have white flowers which attract insects, and the dense foliage provides cover for roosting and nesting of birds.  But they have a huge disadvantage in that deer will eat them, so you either have to protect the young plants with cages or suffer damage to many arrowwood plants.


Thus I have looked elsewhere for viburnums that are resistant to deer damage and have found the doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum Mariesii).  This is an exotic but non-invasive species from China and Japan.  It grows quickly into a large, dense shrub that produces clusters of white flowers in the spring, followed by red to black berries in the summer.  The flower head consists of many small fertile flowers in the center surrounded by large in-fertile flowers that seem to function in attracting insects.  The analogy to the floral structure of the more highly developed asters is striking. They resemble hydrangeas but are not related to them.   Birds such as mockingbirds eat the berries and also nest in the dense foliage.  This has been a miracle plant for us because the amount of time and money expended in avoiding deer damage is avoided.  The Mariesii viburnum is successfully grown from southern Canada though northern Florida.  In southern Florida there is a wonderful native shrub, the fire bush (Hamelia patens), which serves much the same purpose in the sub-tropical wildlife-friendly yard.


So if you want to attract more butterflies and birds to your yard, select shrubs that provide nectar, fruits, cover, and larval food.  You will be richly rewarded by the increased numbers of wildlife that visit.


Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL, and Galax, VA