Tag Archives: native plants

Dutchman's Breeches © Deborah Kellogg

Take 5: Spring Wildflowers

April in many parts of Massachusetts can feel a bit like nature is holding its breath, so that on any given morning you might wake up to find the world outside transformed from gray to green (or, as last Friday proved, blanketed in white one more time). Never fear, spring wildflower season is upon us! These bright harbingers of spring burst forth from the long-dormant earth in a dazzling variety of colors, shapes, and arrangements.

There’s an advantage to blossoming early—plenty of sunshine to provide energy before the trees fully leaf out and obscure the sun’s rays. The majority of spring wildflowers need to bloom, be pollinated, and store enough food for the following year—all before the leaves on neighboring trees have fully appeared. Some of the earliest species (and those needing the most direct sunlight) are known as spring ephemerals. These are plants that, after flowering, virtually disappear in a few short weeks.

Timing Is Everything

While the exact timing can vary due to variations in elevation or temperature, including the warming temperatures caused by climate change, if you want to catch a glimpse of Dutchman’s breeches and trout lily, make sure you get out by the first week of May; even sooner if you’re looking for bloodroot, which in some regions is already setting seed by the end of April.

You’ll see the greatest diversity of spring wildflowers around the middle of May, including red trillium in deciduous forests and jack-in-the-pulpit in wetlands. You’ll find the bright-red, nodding flowers of wild columbine perched on rocky outcrops. Last to the party in late May are the orchids: pink lady’s slipper is more common than most people realize and grows beneath pines and oaks, but you have to be lucky to stumble across yellow lady’s slipper or showy orchid in pockets of rich woodlands.

Learn More

Read up about spring wildflower season on our website, grab a copy of the classic go-to Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, or take an upcoming wildflowers program at a sanctuary near you. Please enjoy these five photos of spectacular native spring wildflowers from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

And don’t forget to check out all the great Earth Month things going on at Mass Audubon—Earth Day is this Thursday, April 22!

Jack-in-the-Pulpit © Anne Greene
Jack-in-the-Pulpit © Anne Greene
Dutchman's Breeches © Deborah Kellogg
Dutchman’s Breeches © Deborah Kellogg
Red Trillium © Allison Bell
Red Trillium © Allison Bell
Yellow Trout Lily © Richard Welch
Yellow Trout Lily © Richard Welch
Bloodroot © Maili Waters
Bloodroot © Maili Waters
Common Milkweed © Laura Ferraguto

Take 5: Native Plants that Pollinators Love

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the biodiversity of our entire ecosystem depends on pollinators. Animals like birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, and other insects feed on plants, and in doing so, help 80% of the world’s plant species reproduce.

Over the last few decades, pollinator populations have declined dramatically due to climate change, pesticide exposure, and loss of habitat and food sources. Fortunately, we can help. One major way to make a positive impact on pollinators—and beautify an outdoor space—is to plant a native pollinator garden.

Even small outdoor spaces can provide quality habitat and help us fight biodiversity loss. A pollinator garden can range from a decorative planter with native flowers to small flowerbeds or larger vegetable gardens interspersed with flowers. 

There are several ways you can learn more and start making a difference in your backyard or neighborhood:

Enjoy these five photos of pollinator-friendly native plants and let us know in the comments how you plan to support pollinators this year!

Joe Pye Weed by Martha Gach
Joe Pye Weed by Martha Gach
Buttonbush © Cristina Hartshorn
Buttonbush © Cristina Hartshorn
Cardinal Flower © Ed Anzures
Cardinal Flower © Ed Anzures
Common Milkweed © Laura Ferraguto
Common Milkweed © Laura Ferraguto
Cranberry Bush Viburnum © Laura Bryan
Cranberry Bush Viburnum © Laura Bryan

EDIT: An earlier version of this post included a photo of Echinacea purpurea (coneflower). While great for pollinators and native to the Midwest United States, it is not native to New England.

Cedar Waxwings on a variety of crab apple © Stephen Kent

Take 5: Birds Love Berries

As winter closes in, many species of wildlife look to fuel up for the challenging conditions of winter. Fortunately, several plant species take advantage of this in their seed dispersal strategies by producing delicious and nutritious berries that wildlife will eat then excrete, depositing seeds in a new location along with a dose of fertilizer. While many of the fall berries have long since gone by, some varieties last well into winter, providing a larder for the fruit-eating species that are active all winter long.

If you have a fruit-bearing plant in your yard or neighborhood, you’ll have a better chance of capturing a great photo of some fruit-eating birds. Visit our website for more tips to attract birds to your feeders and enjoy these five photos of birds snacking on berries from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.

Cedar Waxwings on a variety of crab apple © Stephen Kent
Cedar Waxwings on a variety of crab apple © Stephen Kent
Pine Grosbeak on a variety of crab apple © Kevin Bourinot
Pine Grosbeak on a variety of crab apple © Kevin Bourinot
Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
Eastern Bluebird on Winterberry © Cheryl Rose
American Robin Eating Winterberries © Alan B. Ward
American Robin Eating Winterberries © Alan B. Ward
Northern Flicker on a variety of crab apple © Peggy Chao
Northern Flicker on a variety of crab apple © Peggy Chao

Don’t Weed the Milkweed!

If a gardening catalog offered a plant that sported unique flowers, attracted butterflies, fed and protected the beloved monarch butterfly, provided nesting material for goldfinches and orioles, was easy to grow, and was native to our state, wouldn’t we be eager to plant some in our gardens?

So, what is this magical plant? Milkweed! There are over 70 species of milkweed native to the United States. In Massachusetts, species you may see include: common milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterflyweed, whorled milkweed, and poke milkweed. Each looks different and each blooms at different times depending on the species and location.

Common milkweed is probably our most recognizable milkweed. Found in fields, meadows, disturbed areas, and roadsides, its large, thick leaves exude a milky substance when broken; its pink blossoms attract a frenzy of insect activity in early summer; and its distinctive seed pods release a hundred or more seeds flying on silky parachutes in late summer and early fall.

But don’t let the “weed” part fool you. This plant is a treasure not to be plucked. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Milkweed provides plentiful nectar to honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, and other native pollinators. Milkweed depends on insects for pollination and in return the insects receive easy nectar from milkweed’s many small flowers growing in large clusters.
  • Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed for their survival. Monarch caterpillars only feed on milkweed and the toxins in the plant make the caterpillar and adult unpalatable and poisonous to vertebrate predators. The monarch’s bright orange color acts like a warning sign to predators: Eat me and you’ll get sick!
  • Milkweed provides habitat for tiny aphids “herded” for their honeydew by ants; milkweed bugs who feed exclusively on milkweed seeds; crab spiders who assume the color of the milkweed flower and jump out at unsuspecting butterflies; and many more bizarre and wonderful creatures.
  • Milkweed has an interesting history. In the genus Asclepias, milkweed is named after the Greek god of medicine (Asklepios) and the plant has been used medicinally for ailments ranging from asthma to tapeworm. (Not recommended!) Early settlers and pioneers used milkweed’s seed silk as stuffing for pillows and mattresses and ate every part of the plant after boiling in several changes of water to dispel the bitter toxins. (Again, not recommended!)

So, please, don’t weed the milkweed! Instead plant it, grow it, nurture it, and acquaint yourself with a patch near you.

To learn more about milkweed, visit a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary near you or come to the Annual Barbara J. Walker Butterfly Festival at Broad Meadow Brook in August to purchase milkweed, plant milkweed seeds, and learn more about butterfly gardening.

Photo of a monarch on common milkweed via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service