Good Shrubs for Wildlife

iannJanuary 1, 2013

Your shrub is an ecosystem

Shrubs provide food or a home for many creatures, some welcome and some less so. Many gardeners make special efforts to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, but most would prefer that deer don't eat their pride and joy. Wild birds have to roost and nest somewhere and often it is in large shrubs.

The simplest rule to follow when choosing a shrub that will attract wildlife is to choose something native to your area. Birds and insects are very well adapted to native flora, but usually have little use for exotic shrubs. Hummingbirds and butterflies are especially picky and can often only survive on one type of plant.

There are other useful points to bear in mind. We all think of providing berries for the winter months, but berries are also a very valuable food source in summer and autumn, so add shrubs that crop at different times of the year. Gardeners with large amounts of land can have a serious beneficial effect by providing habitat, but also by linking habitats using hedgerows.


Butterflies need plants for two main things: nectar for themselves; and food for caterpillars. They usually raise their caterpillars on one or a very few types of plant. They are also choosy about where to get their nectar. Many of the shrubs that attract butterflies with nectar will also attract hummingbirds.

Latin name Common Name Comments USDA zones
Abelia grandiflora Glossy Abelia Long flowering season attracts butterflies. 6-10
Abutilon hybridum Chinese Lantern Good for hummingbirds too. 8-11
Buddleia Butterfly Bush Famous for attracting butterflies, they come for the nectar. 5-9
Caesalpinia gilliesii Bird of Paradise Exotic flowers bring exotic butterflies. 9-12
Crataegus Hawthorn Host plant for Swallowtails and Hairstreaks. 4-9
Hibiscus Hibiscus Nectar for butterflies. 5-9
Hypericum 'Hidcote' St John's Wort Host for Hairstreak caterpillars. 5-9
Kolkwitzia amabilis Beauty Bush Nectar attracts many butterflies. 4-8
Lindera benzoin Spicebush Host plant for Swallowtail caterpillars. 4-8
Malus Crabapple Rotting fruit attracts some butterflies. Also host for Swallowtail and Hairstreak caterpillars. 4-9
Prunus serotina Black Cherry Host plant for several butterfly larvae. 3-9
Rhododendron Rhododendron/Azalea Attracts butterflies when in flower. 3-9
Ribes Flowering Currant Host for Angelwing caterpillars and provides nectar when in flower. 4-9

Birds except Hummingbirds

Birds are attracted to some shrubs for food, usually berries, and for nest sites. Almost any shrub that produces berries provides a feast for some bird or other. Hummingbirds feed on nectar and so they tend to like many of the same shrubs that are attractive to bees.

Latin name Common Name Comments USDA zones
Amelanchier Serviceberry Tasty berries for everyone. 3-8
Aronia Chokeberry Edible berries. 4-8
Cornus Dogwood Berries on most varieties. 5-9
Cotoneaster Cotoneaster Salicifolius seems very popular, the smaller ones seem to be left until last. 4-9
Ilex Holly Robins especially like the berries. 3-10
Lindera Spicebush Fruit in autumn. 4-8
Mahonia Grapeholly Late summer fruit. 5-9
Prunus Cherry/Laurel All Prunus fruit seem highly palatable to birds as well as humans. 3-9
Pyracantha Firethorn Abundant fruit for winter birds. 6-10
Sambucus Elder Summer fruit. 4-9
Symphoricarpus Snowberry Berries not always eaten but can be a good food source in harsh weather. 2-8
Viburnum Viburnum Fruit of some types is edible by humans as well as birds. 3-9

Hummingbirds and Bees

Almost any showy flowering shrub will be attractive to hummingbirds or bees. Any flowering native shrubs are generally good for bees, but hummingbirds are a little more selective.

Latin name Common Name Comments USDA zones
Buddleia Butterfly Bush It's not just butterflies that love the nectar. Bees and sometimes hummingbirds also feed here. 5-9
Cotoneaster Cotoneaster Bees love it. 4-9
Escallonia Escallonia Another bee magnet. 8-11
Ilex Holly Attracts bees during the short flowering season. 3-10
Lonicera Honeysuckle Some hummingbirds feed on these shrubs. 5-9
Rhododendron Azalea/Rhododendron Hummingbirds like nectar from these. 3-9
Ribes Flowering Currant Watch out for bees near this shrub in spring. 4-9
Weigela Weigela Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers. 5-9
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