Pollination by bees of plum tree blossoms.

Pollinator Friendly Native Trees

Excerpted from: Tree Pollination Process

  Flowering trees are an important source of pollen and nectar for pollinators. They are especially important in spring, when tired, overwintered bees emerge and need an early supply of food.

Tree pollination is an essential natural process that enables trees to produce seeds, grow fruit, and propagate future generations.

Flowering trees are an important source of pollen and nectar for pollinators.

Flowering trees are also great for pollinators because they provide a large amount of food at one time. American basswood is one of the best nectar producers you can have. When an American basswood is in full bloom, it attracts many bees and other pollinators. If you have a small space, and want to maximize the pollinator food that you provide, trees are usually your best option.

  Tree Pollination Basics

Trees have evolved with different strategies to spread their pollen far and wide to maximize cross-pollination opportunities depending on habitat and structure.

Here are the different ways how trees distribute pollen.

  Wind Pollination (Anemophily)

Honey bees pollinating pussy willow catkins.
Honey bees pollinating pussy willow catkins.

Many trees like oak, pine, cypress, and birch rely on the wind to blow their dry, powdery pollen through the air from catkin to catkin (wind pollination). Wind-pollinated trees produce huge amounts of lightweight pollen grains to ensure enough to reach female flowers.

To better expose their pollen to wind currents, wind-pollinated species have catkins that dangle openly from branches. Trees adapted to wind pollination often grow together in dense stands which increases the chances of pollen transfer.

  Animal Pollination (Zoophily)

Most flowering trees depend on animal pollinators like birds, bats, bees, and other insects to carry their sticky pollen from flower to flower (animal pollination).

They attract pollinators using showy flower colors, alluring scents, and nourishing nectar.

Specialized flower shapes precisely match pollinators’ size and form to ensure effective pollen transfer. For example, hummingbird flowers have a tapered tubular shape perfectly suited to hummingbird beaks and heads.

  Water Pollination (Hydrophily)

Although uncommon among trees, water pollination occurs in some aquatic plants.15

The pollen floats on the water’s surface to reach female flowers. White mangroves exclude salt from their flowers to float their pollen along coastal waters.

Many native trees blossom in early spring, like the Pussy Willow, providing sources of pollen for hungry, early-emerging pollinators.

The following chart provides a list of trees native to our area that can provide support to native pollinators. Consider adding these trees to your pollinator garden plan. The chart indicates the blooming sequence of each of the species.

Blooming Period
Common Name Botanical Name Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep
American Basswood Tilia americana
American Plum Prunus americana
Black Cherry Prunus serotina
Black Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa
Blackhaw Viburnum Viburnum prunifolium
Black Willow Salix nigra
Common Elderberry Sambucus canadensis
Common Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius
Downy Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea
Eastern Redbud Cercis canadensis
Lowbush Blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium
Northern Catalpa Catalpa speciosa
Northern Spicebush Lindera benzoin
Pussy Willow Salix discolor
Red Maple Acer rubrum
Red Mulberry Morus rubra
Red Twig Dogwood Cornus sericea
Smooth Sumac Rhus glabra
Sassafras Sassafras albidum

Further Reading:

 Wisconsin Native Fruit Trees
 Fertilizer Basics: A Tutorial
 Wisconsin Native Flowering Shrubs
 Native Plant Root Systems

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