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Maine Gardener: To Better Support Native Wildlife, Grow These Five Key Tree Species In Your Garden

By on December 5, 2021 0

When Anna Fialkoff, program director for the Wild Seed Project, said in a Zoom program for the Native Plant Trust that five key species are needed to create healthy habitat for wildlife in New England, it sparked a childish reaction and competitive in me. .

Our yard only has two out of five, and I wanted to go out and buy the other three to make our yard complete.

These five key species are oaks, which are home to over 500 species of butterflies and moths; willows, cherries and birches, over 400 each; and poplars, over 300. Fialkoff said she got these numbers from Doug Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home”.

Our garden has a lot of oak trees, and have been since we moved here in 1975. It is the predominant tree in our city, and a few years ago, when winter moth caterpillars ruled the oaks, we advised people to plant other species. Biological control of tachnid flies has reduced the threat of winter moths and oaks are booming again. I saw winter moths this year, but less than five or six years ago.

We also have a lot of black cherry – a large tree and a grove of smaller ones – which I only discovered last year.

However, we don’t have any of the other three key trees. And after about an hour of checking catalogs and other sources, I decided we could have an eco-friendly job site without them. And you could too – although if you don’t have any of the five you should get at least one.

It turns out, according to the Maine Forest Services’ “Forest Trees of Maine”, revised in 2008, that willows “are found along streams and ponds.” We do not have any on our property.

A poplar prefers “low pools along the rivers”, although others may be suitable for our habitat.

Five types of birch are listed in “Forest Trees of Maine” and many birch trees grow in our city. We could grow a birch, but I’m not sure we can find a suitable place for it.

Fialkoff said the trees that support butterflies and moths are important not only for the species themselves, but also for how they affect other species in the food chain, especially at the caterpillar stage. “Caterpillars are a great high protein food for birds,” she said. “They are like a miniature sausage.”

A cecropia butterfly, the largest butterfly in North America, clings to a pine branch. At the caterpillar stage, it likes to live on trees, and is particularly fond of black cherry trees. Cathy Keifer / Shutterstock

Fialkoff mentioned the Cecropia butterfly, also known as the giant silk butterfly. The largest butterfly in North America, it grows as big as some small birds. It spends most of its almost year-long life as a caterpillar, living in trees, especially black cherries, moulting several times and feeding on the leaves. Few caterpillars survive the various stages of becoming moths. And as a moth, the insect lives only 10 days.

Another host that I have found when researching the subject online is maple trees. I liked this because we have several red maples on our property – all of them were here when we moved in or self-seeded without any help from us beyond our elimination of their competition. Red maples are my favorite tree on our property. We used them to make maple syrup when our children were young. They are not as productive as sugar maples, but they do produce syrup. The leaves are beautiful and fall early – unlike our oaks and the wicked Norway maples on our neighbors’ properties – and they’re thin, so they decompose quickly.

I was surprised that maples were not among the five key species and asked Fialkoff about it. They are a precious and important species, she agreed, supporting more than 300 species of moths and butterflies. His response confirmed my decision not to run and buy a birch.

Despite its place as the primary key species, I have a love / hate relationship with oak trees. Yes, they are majestic and beautiful, but if my wife Nancy and I did not spend many hours each year weeding our gardens, both ornamental and vegetable patches, the oaks would overtake the gardens. In a single afternoon of weeding, we can weed over 100 sprouted acorns, especially after the heavy acorn harvests of the past two years. This year’s harvest has been much smaller, thankfully, although the acorns themselves appear to be larger.

During his speech, Fialkoff spoke of more than just tall trees. Think about the design of the layered gardens, she told listeners. Plant tall trees in a single layer, shrubs (including small ones like native viburnum and serviceberry, a.k.a. Amelanchier) as the middle layer, and perennials for the layer closest to the ground. She suggested herbaceous perennials, such as milkweeds, coral honeysuckle (which supports hummingbirds), asters, and goldenrods.

Let me go back to the trees to close. Our neighbor Kathy Tarpo, who is a horticultural teacher at Portland Arts and Technology High School, pointed out one to me last spring. Hadn’t noticed it before as it’s surrounded by oak trees, and it’s either on our property line or on the neighbor’s property – which is good as nature doesn’t recognize property lines anyway. . This is the hickory shagbark, which supports over 200 moths and butterflies, less than half of what oaks do. But nuts are edible, and wild animals other than moths love them. In addition, this human likes the appearance of the tree.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer who gardens in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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