Something serious is happening to wild bees and butterflies. Populations of many species are in decline and a growing number are endangered. The flowers and trees growing in yards and gardens are part of the solution for protecting pollinators and preserving the ecoservices they provide.
Trees and bees are more than a great combination, it’s a necessary one, for them and us. Trees need bees for converting flowers into fruit, nuts and seeds. Bees need trees for the nutritious nectar and pollen they provide.
Trees have been called “meadows in the sky,” a place where wildlife thrives. What’s happening in the canopy is often missed because it’s higher than where we normally look and when we do, bees and caterpillars are hard to see. We may not know it but trees are busy places for insects.
Some trees are better for bees and caterpillars than others. Native species are best. Native bees and butterflies are well matched with native trees because they evolved together over thousands of years. Each has what is needed by the other to complete their life cycle. The times when bees are active matches when trees are flowering and they have the right shape and skill for accessing the nectar and pollen. This is also true for native trees and butterflies. The nutrition in the leaves is exactly what caterpillars require.
Even among native species, there are a few special trees providing resources for a large number of bees and butterflies. Oaks are at the top of the list. Oaks are a keystone species, capable of sustaining over 500 species of caterpillars. Recent research shows they’re also important for bees. One study found more than ninety species of wild bees active in the forest canopy between March and May. A close examination of what those bees ate revealed it was between 25 and 100 percent tree pollen, primarily from oaks and maples.
The flowers, shrubs and trees growing in yards and gardens make a difference for bees and butterflies.
Planting native keeps them safe.
Native Trees and Shrubs for Illinois Pollinators
|American Plum||15′ – 35′ suckers||white in. early spring||moist||sun, pt shade, shade||pollen, nectar, larval host, fruit for birds|
|Basswood||30′ – 80′||small, fragrant||dry, moist||sun, pt shade, shade||nectar, larval host|
|Birch (Gray, River, Sweet, Yellow)||varies by species 20′-70′||catkins||moist, wet||full sun, partial shade||pollen, larval host|
|Black Chokeberry||3′ – 8′ suckers||white, pink May||moist, dry mesic||light shade, full sun||nectar, pollen, larval host coral hairstreak|
|Blackhaw Viburnum||12-15 to 30′||spring, white, showy||dry, moist, mesic||full sun, pt shade||nectar, pollen|
|Buttonbush||6′-12′||white, Jun-Sept||moist – wet||pt shade, shade||nectar, pollen|
|Cherry, (Wild Black)||80′ ht||white, late spring, early summer||moist to slightly dry||full sun to light shade||nectar, pollen, fruit larval host|
|Chokecherry||8′-25′||white, mid-late spring||moist to dry mesic||sun, light shade||nectar, pollen|
|Common Ninebark||3′-9′||white, May-June||moist – dry||full to partial||nectar, pollen|
|Dogwood (Pagoda)||10′ – 30′ ht||cream to white, late spring early summer||moist, well drained||partial sun||nectar, pollen, larval host|
|Downy Hawthorn||20′-25′||white, late spring||moist – mesic||moist – mesic||nectar, pollen, larval. host|
|Mapleleaf Viburnum||2-6′||white, late spring to early summer||mesic – dry||dappled sun, light shade||nectar, pollen|
|Maples||50′- 80′ ht||red, early to mid-spring||prefers moist but tolerates most soils||full sun to light shade||nectar, pollen, larval host cecropia moth|
|Nannyberry||20-30′||white, spring||moist to dry||sun, pt shade, shade||nectar, pollen, larval host|
|Oaks||60′-100′||mid to late spring||mesic to dry mesic||full to partial sun||pollen, larval host|
|Pussy Willow||15′- 20′||March – April||wet to moist||full sun||pollen, larval host|
|Red Osier Dogwood||12′||white,late spring – early summer||moist||part shade||nectar, pollen, larval host|
|Redbud||15′-30′||March- May||moist||pt shade, shade||nectar, pollen|
|Serviceberry||15′ – 30′ shorter hybrids available||white, April, May||moist||full sun to pt shade||nectar, pollen, larval host|
Native Plants of North America