Examples of Habitat Plants and What They Attract

Gardeners’ Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts 

By Dan Songster, 2010 May
This column offers chapter members a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. The question for this issue is: “What native plant is your favorite for habitat, and which birds, bugs, and/or butterflies does it attract?”

Christiane Shannon
-Right away I am thinking of at least four plants in my garden, but since you ask for one, I choose the California Sycamore, (Platanus racemosa). For many years, there has been lots of larvae of a kind of boring beetle in their bark. Regularly two species of woodpeckers come to feed two or three days in a row, then disappear. It is as if they sense that the moment is right for the feast… So many other birds species collect food or rest in them (we have four mature trees) that I could give you a long list of bird names. Once in a while I see a Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly fluttering around these trees. This species uses Platanus as a larval food-plant. Female Carpenter Bees regularly drill tunnels in a dead branch and deposit their eggs. One spring recently, a pair of Nuttall’s Woodpecker raised two broods of chicks.

Greg Rubin-To me, Toyon is an “aviary on a stick” — I’ve seen Cedar Waxwings, Western Bluebirds, Scrub Jays, Thrashers, Chats, Mockingbirds, Grosbeaks, etc. feasting on mine. For butterflies, I love Cleveland sage and Monardella. They are butterfly and hummingbird magnets. I’ve seen Monarchs, Painted Ladies, Sulfur, Admirals, Morning Cloaks, Fritillaries, and even Dogface on these.

Ratcliffe-All of the Cleveland sage selections are great—they attract pollinators when in flower and seed eating birds later in the season. I also like Solidago (Golden Rod) and Aster chilensis (California Aster) because they bloom after the spring rush is over and provide landscape color and wildlife benefits in late summer and early fall.

Kutcher-My “habitat” favorite is Toyon: it feeds a wide variety of nectar-eaters while flowering in early summer, & a wide variety of berry-eaters while in fruit in late fall & winter.

Eisenstein-My favorite butterfly attractor is Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia californica) because it attracts the elegant pipevine swallowtail butterfly. Though the plant is not native this far south, it attracted the butterflies at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. A reader of my blog reported that the pipevine swallowtail found her Dutchman’s pipe in San Diego as well. (http://wildsuburbia.blogspot.com/2010/03/pipevine-swallowtail-at-rancho.html)

Dan Songster
– I could opt for the Coast Live Oak with its huge attraction to so many insects and birds but will instead go with the often overlooked Isocoma menziesii-Coastal Goldenbush. A wonderful variety of native bees, flies, small butterflies, as well as beetles and spittlebugs use this plant to great advantage. This summer flowering native is a circus of life, and is great for children to view the fascinating insects at their eye level.

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