By Sally Sovall
Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
Okay, maybe not that kind of favorite things, but we asked some local native plant, bird and butterfly lovers, “What is your favorite native shrub or tree?” Here are some of their answers. . .
American Hazelnut (Corylus americana): Katy says she loves the Hazelnut because the flower is so pretty. She cautions however that finding a hazelnut is like finding a hundred dollar bill to a squirrel, so plant them only if you are open to welcoming squirrels to your yard.
Black Chokeberry(Aronia melanocarpa): Chokeberry is the fruit that pemmican was made from. The indigenous people of North America invented pemmican as a high-energy food that could sustain a person on long journeys or throughout brutal winters. Katy likes Chokecherry because of the connection to the land and the traditions of the indigenous people.
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa): Laurie: “The leaves are a deep, glossy green, and wonderfully thick and leathery. When I see parts of the leaves nibbled away, it makes me happy -- it's one of the best insect habitats, and those nibbles mean it's doing its job. Bur oak's habit is not symmetrical, but it's very sculptural. The branches attach to its trunk like a modern dancer's limbs, sort of all akimbo, but still elegant and strong. It's really beautiful.”
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis): Katy recommends the buttonbush because when she was a butterfly monitor it was the plant that attracted the most fritillary butterflies: “I even saw a great spangled fritillary on a buttonbush one day.” They love the flowers and so does she.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra var. canadensis): Another one of Katy’s favorites is the Elderberry. “It’s just so giving,” she said as she showed me large bunches of elderberries. “I left some for the birds, but you should see all of the mead that I have inside.” Mead (according to Wikipedia) it is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water and various fruits, spices, grains or hops.
New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus): Pam says her current favorite is New Jersey Tea. “It is very well-behaved so it makes a nice foundation plant. We have several in front of our house and they are compact, densely leaved, form a nice neat ball, stay in their place, and have beautiful white flowers all over them in the Spring. They are the host plant for caterpillars of little blue azure butterflies and skippers and I see them hanging out there all the time. Pollinators love the flowers. As a side note: the leaves were dried and used to replace tea during the Revolutionary War, but they don’t have caffeine.”
Pagoda Dogwood(Cornus alternifolia): Charlie: “A nice small to medium sized tree that grows well in part shade, perfect for Oak Park-sized yards. The horizontal branching of the tree is just beautiful.”
Steve: “We have a 4-year-old pagoda dogwood growing on the north side of our house. My home office windows provide a front row seat view of it. In late summer, I love watching all the birds that come to eat berries. They are mostly robins. Sometimes squirrels come, too. It's fun to watch the squirrels -- they snip off a whole section like a bunch of grapes and eat them all in one sitting.”
Snowbell (Styrax americanus): Laura really likes the American Snowbell. “The white miniature flowers in the spring and early summer are something I look forward to every year.”
Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea aboreescens): Charlie: “I was sold on this shrub when I saw it in a garden growing next to its cultivated cousin, the Annabelle hydrangea. Not a single insect was near the flowers of the Annabelle, but the native hydrangea blossoms were absolutely covered with bees, butterflies, and who knows what else.”
Sally also voted for the Smooth Hydrangea that she planted in the shady front yard native garden at her condo. “The flowers were stunning!”
Share the love! Please tell us your favorite native shrub or tree, tell us what you like about it and send a photo. We’d love to add it to our web page.
Together we can make the world a better place for birds, butterflies and other critters that we share our space with.
The Native Shrub & Tree Sale continues until Sept. 22, with plant pick up on Sept. 29. Place orders here.