Since interest in pollinators continues to rise, I enjoy encouraging Central Kansas gardeners to investigate plants that they can incorporate into their landscapes that will bring them the enjoyment of seeing nature up close and personal.
There are two shrubs that are often forgotten about that will attract those valuable pollinators to your landscape and support them with the resources they need to thrive. Both shrubs can also add nice ornamental interest to any home landscape when carefully placed in a good location.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a wildlife friendly, medium to large deciduous shrub that has a wide native range. This shrub can have a single or multi-stemmed habit and has glossy leaves with light green branches. The shrub gets its name due to the aroma that arises from its crushed leaves, fruits, and stems.
Spicebush is sometimes referred to as the ‘forsythia of the wild’ due to its early spring flowering. The shrub has subtle yellow flowers that appear in early spring on bare branches. The early flowers are good for pollinators like native bees who don’t have many other options for food during this time of the year. During the growing season spicebush leaves are an important food source for the larvae of the swallowtail butterfly, which gardeners love to attract to their home landscapes.
Spicebush also adds some fall garden interest as well. After the first night of cold temperatures the leave turn from green to gold fairly quickly and provide a bright splash of fall color. Fall is also when the fruit is ripe and birds will readily enjoy harvesting the small glossy red fruit.
Spicebush is generally found in partial shade where it has a more open branching habit and makes a good understory shrub. Spicebush will also tolerate full sun with access to consistent moisture-it generally won’t tolerate drought well but does prefer well drained soil. When planted in full sun, pruning can encourage this shrub to have a nice dense canopy.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is another shrub that is native to Kansas and can be used statewide. This is a medium to large shrub that can grow quickly in good conditions. It is well known for its glossy leaves and summer flowers that appear as a spherical, spikey, ball-like head and are very attractive to a variety of pollinators. The flowers are also curious enough that people enjoy observing their unique attributes.
The flower heads mature into ball-like fruits of multiple, two seeded, nutlets later in the year and often remain until winter when birds love to enjoy them.
Buttonbush thrives in moist soils, including wetlands but is tolerant of moderate drought once established. The shrub is adaptable to soil pH and is also tolerant of both sun and part shade. If you plant buttonbush in full sun, it is best to provide regular watering during extended dry and hot summer conditions.
Buttonbush can make another unique addition to the pollinator friendly landscape and will contribute for years to come.