2019-04-12 / Home & Garden

Best Pollinator-friendly Native Plants for the Home Garden

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano SCGardenLearning
on Facebook

Just in time for spring planting Columbia Green and Millcreek Greenhouses collaborated to bring gardeners face to face with a professional plant propagator. Shelby Jackson, horticulturist at Carolina Native Nursery (CNN) in Burnside, NC presented her program outdoors surrounded by her favorite native plants and buzzing pollinators.

Why natives? CNN supports an ecosystem with birds, bees, butterflies and other insects, some of the smallest creatures on the planet, because they are the basis of the food chain for all the larger creatures including us. Insects are either specialists or generalists when it comes to diet. Most insects are specialists and have adapted to find, eat, digest and survive on plant lineages with particular phytochemicals. Evolution has given animal species a chemical dependency and tolerance for specific plants. A spicebush swallowtail caterpillar is a specialist that must eat spicebush leaves to survive. Monarch larvae depend solely on milkweed. Generalists can tolerate a varied diet. Native plants are adapted to the soil and climate having dealt with extreme conditions over millennial. Natives are the tried and true and tough. An unparalleled diversity of insects and birds come to gardens with native trees, shrubs and perennials as opposed to alien species.


Shelby Jackson, horticulturist at Carolina Native Nursery in Burnsville, N.C., spoke to Columbia home gardeners at Millcreek Greenhouses. Shelby Jackson, horticulturist at Carolina Native Nursery in Burnsville, N.C., spoke to Columbia home gardeners at Millcreek Greenhouses. Planting a garden is really planning a seasonal diet for a population of insects and birds…an Ark of Taste for pollinators. In the process plants provide a feast for human eye and gut. For example, blueberries have three seasons of interest to us with lovely white waxy urn-shaped spring flowers, summer fruit, and blazing red fall leaves.

Lindera benzoin, the spicebush shrub hosts a population of insects including the larval host to spicebush swallowtail, tiger swallowtail and promethea silkmoth.

Aronia arbutifolia, the red chokeberry shrub bears clusters of white flowers in spring followed by glossy red fruit and intense red fall foliage. Aronia melanocarpa produces glossy black chokeberries consumed by the birds.

The spherical flower form of Cephalanthus occidentalis, the buttonbush, provides nectar for butterflies. Leaves turn yellow, orange and red in fall. Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ aka summersweet, noted for fragrant rose-pink flowers, is a huge bee attractant and C. alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’ is a fast growing power bloomer until frost.

Fragrant native deciduous azaleas, Rhododendron spp. are southern shade plants for woodland gardens. These wild azaleas have historical lineages in the southeastern US. CNN specializes in seed grown species azaleas.

Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ has fragrant creamy white flowers, followed by white fruit that turns pink before maturing to blue. Glossy dark green foliage turns cinnabar in fall. Viburnums provide a sheltered canopy for songbird nests and bunches of berries for birds like cardinals.

Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea, a dry shade plant, has four-season interest. White pyramidal flowers arise in spring and age gracefully into fall for dry flower arrangements. Fall leaf color is cabernet. Stem structure and peeling bark provide winter sculpture. Oakleaf hydrangea is excellent cover for wildlife. Flowers are a terrific source of pollen and nectar and songbirds consume the seeds.

Millcreek Greenhouses at 2324 Leesburg Road stocks these and more species of native plants for sun or shade.

Return to top