Five great shrubs for wildlife

Chokecherries are handsome shrubs that produce tart berries beloved by wildlife and humans alike. Terry Thomas / news@postregister.com

Once the huckleberries are gone, it seems people forget about wild berries.

But just try and get a finicky huckleberry plant to grow in your yard and you will quickly develop an appreciation for other berry producing shrubs, which can lead to wonderful jellies and syrups.

There are a number of native berry shrubs that actually thrive in landscaped yards and shelterbelts and provide food for humans and wildlife alike. Over my career as a habitat biologist, I oversaw the planting of hundreds of thousands of native shrubs of dozens of varieties. I would often try a shrub in my own landscaping first to see how it would perform. I found that there are some shrubs that perform well in the field but make poor landscape plants and vice versa. I have discovered that there are a handful of shrubs that not only work well in the landscape but also provide wildlife with excellent food and cover. Below are my top five.

Chokecherry. Chokecherry comes in bush and tree form. I have both in my yard and they are by far the No. 1 choice of berry eating birds like robins. A bush will grow as tall as 12-15 feet if you let it. Leave them plenty of room and they will provide prodigious amounts of tart red to black berries that make excellent syrup and jelly — if you can beat the birds to them. Leaves turn bright red in fall adding to the landscape.

Serviceberry. The first time my daughter went to pick huckleberries, she and her husband came back with several bags stuffed with serviceberries. Indeed, the berry is dark blue but the blossom end looks like that of an apple. These grow very well in landscapes and can be shaped and trained into handsome specimens. The berries are best after they have been frosted once or twice and make good preserves. Serviceberries were one of the main ingredients in pemmican made by Native Americans. Most turn yellow in the fall.

Highbush Cranberry. This is not really native to this area, but has performed well in my yard. Mine produce a fair quantity of red berries that seem to disappear quickly. It is a handsome large shrub with large bright green leaves that would make a fine specimen plant.

Mountain Ash. True mountain ash is a native shrub that produces orange pithy berries in large clusters. Humans don’t find them palatable but birds love them. It has handsome pinnately divided leaves that turn red in autumn. There is also a tree form of ash, the European ash, that works well in yards and provides a lot of berries.

Redosier Dogwood. This native shrub makes white berries that, while unpalatable to humans, are a real hit with birds and small mammals. It has red bark (some varieties have yellow bark) that provides winter interest and large clusters of white flowers in spring. The leaves turn red-purple in autumn.

If you are thinking about changing up your landscaping or are landscaping a new area, consider these native shrubs. They not only add eye-catching interest, they will attract birds which bring a special color all their own.

If you don’t know where to find these shrubs, start with the University of Idaho at marketplace.uidaho.edu. Then click on the 6th button down on the left: Center for Forestry Nursery and Seedling Research. This is where I purchased most of my shrubs.


Terry Thomas is a wildlife biologist and naturalist with 30 years of experience. “The Best of Nature,” a collection of more than 100 of Thomas’s best nature essays is now available. Pick up your copy at the Post Register or order one through his website, nature-track.com


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