Eco-Answers from the Pros: Choosing a Tree for Habitat Value

I have room for one new tree in my landscape (6 hours of direct sun, well-drained soil, zone 5). What tree would you recommend for the greatest ecological and habitat value?

I would recommend a genera: Quercus, our native oaks. You can’t go wrong from an ecological/habitat value, with an oak. With the limited information given, it’s hard to recommend a specific species, but if your goal is habitat value, match your aesthetic preferences and more specific site conditions with the range of oak species available in the trade.

Mark Richardson, Director of Horticulture, New England Wild Flower Society, Framingham, MA

Oak leaves, acorns.Benjamin Bruce

Native nut trees such as oak offer high habitat value.

A native nut tree such as a white, black, or red oak would be a good choice. Some people like hickory trees; they have great ecological value for wildlife.

Bruce Wenning, Horticulturist, the Country Club, Brookline, MA

For a smaller tree with habitat value, I would suggest either crabapples (Malus sp.), or serviceberries (Amelanchier sp.).  Both are on the list of “Biodiversity All Star” trees put out by Doug Tallamy and Bill Cullina in 2009. While there are native crabapples most of the more ornamental and disease resistant varieties are of Asian descent; however, “This is one case where the aliens are apparently so similar in leaf chemistry to our native species that there is little evidence that native insects can tell the difference…..” Doug Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home, 2007, pg 166.

Tricia Diggins, Senior Gardens Horticulturist, Wellesley College, MA

Amelanchier sp.

Amelanchier offers high habitat value for a smaller space.

Smaller, native, ornamental trees that provide high habitat value and can be placed in six hours of direct sun include Shadblow Serviceberry (Amelanchier Canadensis), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). All three provide food (berries or drupes) and nesting spots for birds, and Spicebush hosts the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. If you are looking for an evergreen tree, try Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), American Holly (Ilex opaca), or even one of the smaller varieties of white pine (Pinus strobus “Nana” or “Fastigiata”) All are native and provide food and nesting spots for birds; the holly is an early nectar source for bees, and pinecones sustain many small mammals.

Amanda Sloan, Landscape Architect, GLA/BETA Group, Inc., Norwood, MA

ELA members have spent hundreds of hours learning the best ecological solutions to problems in the landscape. You can benefit from all that accumulated knowledge by posing a question to our experts. If you are seeking an ecologically sound solution to a problem in your landscape, ask ELA’s Eco-Pros. Send your question to ela_new@verizon.net. And if you need someone with feet on the ground for additional help, refer to the listing of ELA Professionals.