Plant A Tree For Wildlife This Month
April 1, 2016
April is the month of Arbor Day and Earth Day, and this year both are promoting something we advocate for wildlife habitat -- tree planting.
Arbor Day has always been about planting trees, starting in 1872 in Nebraska and officially celebrated nationwide on the last Friday of April. Washington state traditionally celebrates Arbor Day the second Wednesday of the month, April 13 this year.
Earth Day began on April 22, 1970 at the start of the movement when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed and the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws were passed.
This year’s Earth Day theme is "Trees for the Earth -- Let’s get planting!" This effort will continue over the next four years with a national goal of planting 7.8 billion trees by the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020 to help combat climate change.
How can something as simple as a tree address something as complex as climate change? Trees absorb excess and harmful carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. In a single year an acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by driving the average car 26,000 miles.
Trees help us breathe clean air by absorbing odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filtering particulates out of the air by trapping them in their leaves and bark.
Trees save us energy, up to 30 percent in cooling costs when properly planted around a house to shade sunny south and west sides. They can provide food and income, too.
And of course trees are critical to wildlife, providing nesting sites, roosting spaces, escape cover, and food for a diversity of native mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and invertebrates like butterflies and moths.
So let’s get planting!
Tree species native to Washington are your best bet, not only for native wildlife but for ease of care and long-term sustainability. The following are among good choices, depending on your landscape:
Big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) is a fast-growing tree suited for large landscapes that provides homes for cavity-nesting birds and food for insectivorous birds like woodpeckers and nuthatches.
Douglas maple (Acer glabrum douglassii) is a small tree used for its seeds by grosbeaks, quail and grouse, for its twigs and bark by deer and beavers, and as a larval host for some moth species.
Vine maple (Acer circinatum) is best suited for westside landscapes where it grows naturally in groups as large understory shrubs or small trees. It’s a larvae plant for brown tissue and polyphemus moths, a good nectar source for bees, and seed-producer for a variety of birds.
Oregon white oak or "Garry oak" (Quercus garryana) is a thick-limbed, long-lived tree that is Washington’s only native oak. Like all oaks, it produces acorns loved by everything from Clark’s nutcrackers to tree squirrels, and at maturity they often provide cavities for nesting and roosting by both birds and mammals.
Pacific dogwood (Cornus nutallii) has large, creamy-white, showy flowers eaten by spring azure butterfly larvae. A diversity of birds, including bluebirds, sapsuckers, white-crowned and song sparrows, tree swallows, towhees, and vireos eat its fruit.
Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) is a native small tree or tall shrub that grows well in disturbed sites. Its berries are eaten by grosbeaks, grouse, jays, robins and tanagers, as well as bears, foxes, coyotes and raccoons.
Native birches (Betula spp.) are hardy clump-growers to plant far from drain pipes or foundations, but they produce lots of wildlife habitat: seeds for juncos, siskins and other birds; insects for kinglets, warblers and other birds; bark for nesting material; leaves for mourning cloak and swallowtail butterfly larvae; twigs for elk, deer and small mammals; cavities for birds and other wildlife.
Native hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) are more shrub-like than tree, with densities that often provide good escape cover for songbirds. Berries are favored by robins, waxwings, wood ducks, turkeys, black bears, coyotes and foxes, to name a few.
Native pines (Pinus spp.), which can be fast-growing large trees best suited for larger properties, provide nesting sites for many songbirds and seeds for, among others, crossbills, mourning doves, jays, finches, siskins, and chipmunks.
Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) grows quickly with a dense screen of soft needles that are used by silver-spotted tiger moth larvae, among others; its seeds are eaten by grouse and many songbirds, its associated insects are eaten by brown creepers and woodpeckers, its twigs are browsed by deer and elk; at maturity its cavities harbor flying squirrels and other animals.
Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Washington’s state tree, is favored by elk and deer for its delicate feathery foliage, and juncos, siskins, chickadees and squirrels for its seeds.