Choosing Tree Species for Wildlife (Part 2)

By Stephen Melhuish

Welcome to part 2 of my ‘Tree Species for Wildlife’ blog, looking at the ways that trees change throughout the year and how this can play a big part in their environment. The impact that trees have on their surroundings – and, as a consequence, animals – is often an overlooked part of the tree selection process. This blog explores the characteristics of different tree varieties, helping you decide exactly which tree will be best for your garden.

Last week, we looked at Malus, Cotoneaster, Crataegus, Quercus, Sorbus and Ilex aquifolium, leaving a number of popular tree choices to be explored this week.

Prunus avium (Wild Cherry)

Prunus avium, commonly known as Wild Cherry, produces bright red fruit and is popular with birds such as the hawfinch who cracks open the stones to eat its kernel. The scented white flowers are attractive to bees and flies in the spring and the leaves provide food for animals such as the case-bearer moth. Mammals are also known to enjoy these plants, returning regularly in early summer to feast on the berries. This is a major part of a seed’s journey away from the parent plant, which you can learn more about in Lorraine’s latest blog.

Choosing Tree Species for Wildlife (Part 2)
Choosing Tree Species for Wildlife (Part 2)
Choosing Tree Species for Wildlife (Part 2)

Prunus padus (Bird Cherry)

The Bird Cherry is often found along streams and in watery areas in the north of England and Scotland, sporting stunning blossoms and fruit that attract a wide variety of wildlife. The beautiful white to pale-pink blossoms fill the air with an almond fragrance in the spring, which is very attractive to bees and flies. Its bitter black/red fruit, are eaten by birds such as the song thrush and blackbirds, as well as mammals such as the yellow-necked mouse and dormouse. The foliage is eaten by caterpillars of many moth species, including the orchard ermine, brimstone and short-cloaked moth.

Tilia cordata (Small-Leaved Lime)

The lovely Tilia cordata is most well known for its sweet-smelling flowers that are highly attractive to bees early in summer. Not only does the Small-Leaved Lime’s blossom produce a sweet scent and pleasantly minty honey, but its leaves also support a variety of interesting moths, such as the lime hawk, peppered and vapourer moths. The Small-Leaved Lime is also very attractive to aphids, which in turn attracts predators such as hoverflies and ladybirds, and this in turn attracts birds who come to feed on the little insects.

Long-lived trees provide dead wood for wood-boring beetles, and nesting holes for birds, also hosting up to 31 insect species.

Salix (Willow)

These dramatic trees flourish beside water and also play host to over 200 associated insect species. They also happen to be rather useful in reducing soil erosion. What is less known about the Willow tree is that its flowers provide nectar for hungry queen bumblebees fresh out of hibernation. They are also used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, such as the mourning cloak butterfly. Another common visitor is aphids, who leave behind a trail of aphid honeydew which is gladly collected by wood ants and wasps.

Corylus avellana (Hazel)

The hazel makes for a great hedge but is also regularly coppiced in woodlands, creating open wildflower-rich habitats supporting several species of butterfly, particularly fritillaries. The nuts and leaves of hazel trees provide a great deal of food for birds and mammals, including the now rare dormouse. Coppiced hazel also provides shelter for ground-nesting birds, such as the nightingale, nightjar, yellowhammer and willow warbler.

Fagus Sylvatica (Beech)

Richly coloured autumn leaves and beech nuts (or ‘masts’) provide food for many birds such as tits, chaffinches, nuthatches, as well as squirrels and mice throughout the winter.

Acer campestre (Field Maple)

Our final tree is the Field Maple, known for its five-lobed leaves. Field maple hedges are valuable to wildlife, as they provide food for insects, such as hoverflies, bees and certain species of caterpillars. They are also attractive to aphids and their predators, including many species of ladybird and birds. Many species of moth, such as the mocha, feed on its leaves and you can often find small mammals eating the fruits.

All of these fantastic species are available from our Plant Centre, where we have a wonderful team of friendly horticultural experts on hand to answer any questions you might have.