Why Plant Native Mast-Producing Trees?

Why Plant Native Mast-Producing Trees?

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Native mast-producing trees and shrubs are usually the best choices for wildlife and the environment, because they are well-adapted to local conditions and the local wildlife is well-adapted to them. Although there are exceptions, many native wildlife species show a marked preference for native mast tree and shrub species.

Planting native mast species is especially important for people interested in attracting birds and butterflies to their yard. Plants produce toxins in their leaves to discourage insects from munching on them. Caterpillars and other insect herbivores are often specialized to resist only one type of toxin. As a result, some caterpillars are unable to use non-native plants as host plants.

Maintaining healthy populations of caterpillars and other insect herbivores is important for butterfly and moth enthusiasts for obvious reasons, but why should bird lovers care? Caterpillars and other insects make up the most important component of the diet of baby birds thanks to their high energy content. Even birds that are strictly seed eaters as adults feed their nestlings insects. Caterpillars and other insect herbivores are also popular food sources for many small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and beneficial insects, which in turn are eaten by larger mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects, and so forth.

To learn more about the vital role native plants play in maintaining healthy populations of wildlife, the Mast Tree Network recommends Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, by Douglas Tallamy.

Of the top 20 tree families Tallamy, a entomologist, recommends for supporting the greatest levels of caterpillar diversity, all are mast-producers, and most are excellent mast producers:

Common name Plant Genus Caterpillar Species Supported
Oak Quercus 517
Willow Salix 456
Cherry, plum Prunus 448
Birch Betula 413
Poplar, cottonwood Populus 368
Crabapple Malus 311
Blueberry, cranberry Vaccinium 288
Maple, box elder Acer 285
Elm Ulmus 213
Pine Pinus 203
Hickory, Pecan Carya 200
Hawthorn Crataegus 159
Alder Alnus 156
Spruce Picea 156
Ash Fraxinus 150
Basswood, linden Tilia 150
Filbert, hazelnut Corylus 131
Walnut, butternut Juglans 130
Beech Fagus 126
Chestnut Castanea 125
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34022876@N06/3517589388/