Trees for pollinators

When we talk about planting for pollinators, we often think about native wildflowers. But trees are just as important. Nationwide, the top trees for pollinators are oak, cherry, plum, willow, birch, poplar, cottonwood, crabapple, maple, alder, and hickory.

Debbie Fluegel is the program manager for Trees Forever in Illinois. She says the oak tree is king.

"Oak supports caterpillars of 534 different species of butterflies and moths, so oaks are the quintessential wildlife plant," says Fluegel. "I just read an article recently that oak forests support nearly as many different species as tropical rain forests."

Basswood and linden trees, also known as “bee trees” have fragrant blossoms. Basswood honey is one of the most prized types of honey. Willow trees support some of the showiest butterflies and moths. Fluegel says flowering shrubs such as the wild plum provide a nectar and pollen party for bees, flies, and beetles.

Fluegel says we’ve all seen monarch butterflies on a bright sunny day. But have you ever wondered where they go when it rains?

"We don’t think about things like that. Pollinators have to have shelter whether it’s the bark of a hickory tree, or it could be a brush pile that you leave at the edge of your garden, or the edge of your yard, edge of your farm, where you have gathered up all the sticks, you just leave it in a brush pile," she says. "They need shelter, a place to get in out of the elements, as well as a place to hide from predators."

Pollinators need food from early spring through late fall. Native trees can provide early sources of pollen when few other plants are flowering.

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