Native plants Shrubs

A Spring Full of Flowers, for Pollinators

We hear a lot about pollinators these days. And for good reason: a large part of our wildflowers and foods need insects, such as flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, wasps and especially bees, to be pollinated and also to reproduce or produce fruits for our consumption. Pollinating insects are also the prey of birds, mammals and fish, making them an integral part of our ecosystems, not only of our gardens.

In order to fulfill their nourishing role, they must feed in turn. Spring is particularly hard for some species since there are few inflorescences to feed on. With the destruction of natural habitats by humans, it is becoming increasingly difficult for pollinators to feed. Despite the abundance of gardens, parks and other green spaces in which various plant species abound, some insects prefer native plants – such as native bees – because they are more nutritious for them than introduced plants.

6 Native Shrubs to Discover for Our Pollinators

While I’m not suggesting that we remove all non-native plants from our gardens, as few studies have been done on their relationship with our domestic insects, it can only be good to introduce plants native to Quebec. Shrubs are often among the first to bloom in the spring, as well as being small enough to be introduced into most yards (I was thinking of experimenting with a willow in a planter on my deck). With that in mind, I present 6 spring blooming shrubs, native to north eastern North America that are easy enough to find in nurseries to help our pollinators.

Photo : Kew on Flickr


Botanical name: Amelanchier canadensis

Height: 25 ft.

Width: 13 ft.

Location: sun, half-shade

Hardiness: 3 USDA

Soil: loam, slightly acid

Humidity: medium

Flowering: April, May

This shrub is often used in ornamental horticulture, so much so that we often forget that it is a native shrub. It is best known for its small white flowers, which it becomes full of very early in the year. However, this bloom is as brief as it is spectacular, lasting from 4 to 7 days. Its flowers are particularly beneficial to native bees. The saskatoon is also known for its fruit, which ripen in June and July and are delicious to us and appreciated by birds. Its fall coloring, ranging from yellow to red to orange, makes the saskatoon shrub as decorative as it is useful.

Photo : Matt Lavin

Red-osier dogwood

Botanical name: Cornus sericea, Cornus stolonifera

Height: 8 feet

Width: 10 ft.

Location: sun, half-shade, shade

Hardiness: 2 USDA

Soil: all types

Humidity: high

Flowering: May, June

The red osier dogwood is often used for naturalization and bank stabilization, partly because it is a versatile and hardy shrub that adapts to any type of terrain and because of the stolons that allow it to propagate and give it its name. Although it attracts several types of insects, it is particularly appreciated by the larvae of the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon lucia). Its white flowers in May and June give way in the fall to white fruits appreciated by mammals. Its foliage turns orange, eventually purple in the fall, and its bright red stems contrast with the surrounding snow, making it a real winter attraction.

Photo : Matt Lavin

Chokecherry tree

Botanical name: Prunus virginiana

Height: 20 feet

Width: 20 ft.

Location: sunny

Hardiness: 2 USDA

Soil: any type, neutral or alkaline

Humidity: medium

Flowering: May, June

I remember the fruits of the chokecherry trees that grew on an abandoned lot near my home where I grew up in Quebec City. Maybe a little sour for some, the kids in the neighborhood loved them and the birds too (be careful, the pit is poisonous). This large shrub adapts quite well to a variety of conditions, as long as it gets sun. Its blooming attracts bees who find good quantities of nectar and pollen.

Photo : Sharon Lee

Golden Currant

Botanical name: Ribes aureum

Height: 6.5 ft.

Width: 8 ft.

Location: sun, part shade

Hardiness: 2 USDA

Soil: any type, neutral or acid

Humidity: low

Flowering: May

The golden current is the first shrub on this list that does not have white flowers.  They are rather golden yellow and have a fragrance that is said to be close to vanilla. The amber fruits, which turn black over time, are a favorite of bears, birds and small mammals, but humans prefer to make jelly from them. Butterflies and bees enjoy its nectar from this shrub, which also attracts hummingbirds. The currant is very hardy and adapts better than other shrubs to dry conditions, as well as to a variety of soils.

Photo : neelam279

American Pussy Willow

Botanical name: Salix discolor

Height: 25 ft.

Width: 13 ft.

Location: sunny

Hardiness: 2 USDA

Soil: all types, acid to neutral

Humidity: medium, high

Flowering: March, April

Quebec has several species of native willows, but I chose the catkin willow because of its extremely early flowering. Its catkins, grey-haired inflorescences, can be seen from the end of March when there is still snow on the ground and its leaves have not emerged, which makes them all the more visible. American pussy willow is essential to the survival of many bees as it blooms very early in the spring, but it also hosts butterfly larvae and moths. It can be cut back every 3 to 5 years if it becomes too imposing.

Photo : Superior National Forest

Red Elder

Botanical name: Sambucus pubens

Height: 3,5m

Width: 3,5m

Location: sun, mid-shade, shade

Hardiness: 3b

Soil: all

Humidity: medium

Flowering: May

This elderberry blooms earlier than other species and often its berries, which are a delight to birds, are already ripe while other spring shrubs are still in bloom. It produces highly nutritious nectar and pollen that attract bees, wasps, flies and ants. It is a very resilient shrub that thrives in different types of soil and light and is very hardy.

This is far from a complete list. The best way to find hardy spring blooming plants is to look around your neighborhood, parks in your area or vacant lots near you. Find the ones that are blooming, identify them and try to replicate them at home. Repeat the experiment year-round for consistent flowering from spring to fall.

Hard to find?

You may not find these species locally, or there may be only cultivars of these species available. I cannot certify that the cultivars of these shrubs are as nutritious to our native pollinators as the original varieties. It is possible that they are more so. Who knows? Few studies have been done on the amount of pollen and nectar that different plants produce, let alone the nutritional quality of them. Still, we can assume that Prunus virginiana ‘Schubert’ will resemble the wild chokecherry.

In any case, you don’t have to worry too much about all these details. You can have fun gardening without studying biology (even experts sometimes know little about it). That’s why I suggest incorporating native and introduced or cultivated plants, as long as they are not invasive. Variety…it’s the spice of life.

Mathieu manages the and websites. He is also a garden designer for a landscaping company in Montreal, Canada. Although he loves contributing to the blog, he prefers fishing.

5 comments on “A Spring Full of Flowers, for Pollinators

  1. Mind Growth

    Thinking of It Serviceberry, they are so valuable to insects because of its early bloom in April even thought the flowers don’t last long. The early source of nectar for pollinators is so important. I had this contractor: install some great plants on my property that also attracts some pollinators as well.



  3. Thank you for making the native plant choice more manageable by recommending a few! Appreciate chokecherry being on the list! I hope to add it to my garden this year!

  4. Maple/red maple month 1-5,Rhus glabra/sumac 6-7, Asclepias/milkweed 7-8-also monarch food source. Aster spp. 8-10, Borago officinalis 6-10, Phacelia tanacetifolia, Solidago spp. goldenrod a major 9-10,Red-flowering thyme 6-7, Buckwheat, plant Buckwheat six week before frost for late summer nectar/honey storage.

  5. Susan Tamulonis

    Doug Tallamy’s books and other efforts and programs may also inspire. Canada is part of his home grown effort

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