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Gardening: Resources for enriching the plants and animals in your backyard.

Shrubs and Wildlife

Some shrubs are virtual wildlife magnets, offering nectar, berries, browse, and protective thickets for hiding. Which of the following shrubs would be the best choice for a native-plant wildlife garden?

Catawba Rhododendron
Rhododendron catawbiense

Highbush Blueberry
Vaccinium corymbosum

Oneseed Hawthorn
Crataegus monogyna

The best choice among the three is Highbush Blueberry. Rhododendrons are among our most beautiful native shrubs, famously coloring our woodlands with their orange, fuchsia, and white blooms in spring. There are many native species, and they are wonderful choices for a native-plant garden. As for wildlife value, however, rhododendrons come up a bit short; they provide protective cover and nesting sites for birds and small mammals (and larger mammals if planted in dense stands) but not much else.

Our native hawthorns are excellent wildlife garden plants, providing ample food and cover, but Oneseed Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is not native. It is a European hedge plant that has become naturalized in many areas of North America from coast to coast.

Our native blueberries, cranberries, and huckleberries (Vaccinium species) are extremely valuable wildlife plants. Their berries, as most of us know, can be juicy and delicious, a view humans share with the wide variety of animals that feed on them in the wild, including bears, porcupines, turkeys, quail, tanagers, bluebirds, foxes, and chipmunks. Elk, moose, caribou, mountain goats, and rabbits browse on the leaves and twigs. Many blueberries grow in dense thickets that provide cover and protection for numerous small mammals and birds. And as if that weren't enough, Vaccinium species are host plants for a number of butterflies, including some lovely sulphurs (Colias species).

North America is home to many other types of shrubs with high wildlife value. A few of them are snowberries (Symphoricarpos), Oregon-grape (Mahonia), currants (Ribes), raspberries and blackberries (Rubus), Blueblossom and other Ceanothus species, viburnums, and elderberries (Sambucus).

This article is excerpted from "How Wild Is Your Garden?", a native plant and wildlife gardening quiz. Take the quiz and learn more.

Visit our Native Gardening and Invasive Plants Guide to learn more about gardening with wildlife and the environment in mind.