Consider adding native plants to your landscape.
You don’t have to devote your entire yard to natives, although some people do.
They can be integrated within traditional landscapes.
Interest in native Florida plants is on the rise because they are adapted to our area, provide ecological value and they generally require less water, fertilizer and maintenance once they’re established.
And, they provide cover and food for birds and other wildlife.
Chances are you already have some excellent native plants in your landscape.
In addition to attracting birds, insects and other wild creatures, some natives also provide seasonal color, such as spring blooms, and produce timely holiday berries.
Here are some bird-attracting natives to consider:
• Walter’s Viburnum Viburnum obovatum
Walter’s viburnum is an all-around great landscape plant because it’s attractive to people and wildlife. Its white, bouquet-like flowers cover the plant in spring, and provide nectar and pollen for bees. Later in the fall, songbirds enjoy the red/black berries. Walter’s viburnum grows tall and thick. This feature makes it a good plant for birds to take cover or build their nests. There are dwarf and standard cultivars, so pick the plant that works best for your landscape. Place a birdbath under Walter’s viburnum and you’ll be sure to see visiting songbirds.
• Beautyberry Callicarpa americana
Beautyberry is a shrub and like Walter’s viburnum is valuable to wildlife. The pink flowers attract pollinators and other insects. Purple berries form later in the year and offer a buffet for birds. Mockingbirds especially enjoy them. If you happen to have quail in your neighborhood, they also like beautyberries. The purple berries persist on the branches from late summer through fall, making this a specimen plant. However, beautyberry is deciduous and sheds its leaves in winter.
If adding it to your garden, you may want to place it behind other plants or toward the back of the garden.
• Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis
If you live near water, consider planting a buttonbush nearby. The unusual-looking, spiky white flowers bloom during summer, and provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies. Waterfowl eat the fall seeds. This large shrub is a favorite place for birds to take cover and build nests.
• Sabal palm Sabal palmetto
Do you have a sabal palm – also known as a cabbage palm – in your landscape or neighborhood? If so, this is great for attracting birds. Sabal palms, our state “tree,” produce flowers and fruits attractive to insects and birds. The boots on the trunk can provide habitat for wildlife. The palm fronds and canopy are great places for birds to rest or hide. Some cavity nesters also build their nests in the holes in palms. For example, woodpeckers use old cabbage palm trunks to make their nests.
• Spanish moss Tillandsia usneoides
Contrary to belief, Spanish moss is not harmful to trees – it is a harmless epiphyte. Epiphytes are not parasitic plants. They attach to plants for support but do not harm the plant or tree. You may have some Spanish moss on oak branches, elms, or other plants. The moss provides protective cover for some animals, such as butterflies and insects. Birds feed on the insects found in the moss and some birds use the moss to build their nests. These Spanish moss nests help protect the birds’ eggs and young.
• Simpson’s stopper, Myrcianthes fragrans, has fragrant leaves and white flowers. After flowering, red fruits develop. These fruits are especially attractive to birds. Simpson’s stopper may be substituted for foundation plantings and makes an attractive hedge.
• Wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, a shrub with shiny, dark green leaves. It produces clusters of tiny white flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Later, birds enjoy the red or maroon fruits.
• Southern red cedar, Juniperus virginians, is a thick cone-bearing tree with dense foliage. It makes an excellent hedge or when planted for privacy. Southern red cedars have male and female cones borne on separate trees. Birds eat the blue female, berry-like cones.
• Florida privet Forestiera segregate is less common in traditional landscapes. This shrub provides nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies, nesting habitat for birds, and purple fruit in summer. Look for it at native nurseries.
• Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. They later produce red fruits that songbirds eat. This vine can be grown easily on trellises, stakes and arbors.
Other great choices for hummingbird plants include crossvine Bignonia capreolata, scarlet sage Salvia coccinea, and firebush Hamelia patens. The red, tubular-shaped firebush flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Songbirds eat its fruit.
There are other ways to attract birds, too. For example, increase the diversity of plants in your garden to attract insects. Plant diversity is one of the easiest and most economical forms of integrated pest management. Insects visiting these plants are a food source for birds.
Limit pesticide use and choose less-toxic methods when possible. Contact your county Extension office if you need help with recommendations, including “soft” pesticides, rotating pesticides, and natural methods of pest control.
Choose plants that bloom at different times of the year. Select a mix of plants that provide food and cover year-round.
Place a clean water source nearby, such as a birdbath. Fill it with fresh water, especially during hot days.
Once you’ve created a welcoming place for birds and wildlife, don’t forget to relax, sit back and enjoy the creatures that venture in for a visit to your yard.
For more information
If you want to know more about this topic, check the references that were used in this column:
Ober, H.K. and G.W. Knox. (2019). Native Plants That Benefit Native Wildlife in the Florida Panhandle. IFAS Publication Number WEC339. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/UW/UW38400.pdf
Wilson, S. et al. (2020). Recommended Native Landscape Plants for Florida’s Treasure Coast.IFAS Publication Number ENH1082. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP34800.pdf