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Southeastern native plants are ablaze with color in the fall. Colorful berries appear to delight the human eye and provide food for hungry birds. The leaves turn orange, red or gold as the weather turns cooler creating beauty throughout the wooded areas and hopefully in your own back yard.
Native trees, shrubs and vines have adapted to local conditions and provide food sources local birds have become accustomed to. By providing a variety of native plants on your property you are adding beauty as well as berries and nesting material for local and migrating birds. Berry producing plants will attract a wider range of birds than your feeding stations.
The blueberry bush is one of the most versatile native plants for the landscape. The summer foliage is a soothing blue-green; in the spring, tiny, white, urn-shaped blooms appear followed by luscious fruit that ripens from a light green to deep blue. The rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashel) seems to be the overall best selection for the Southeast. Choice cultivars of this species include Brightwell, Climax, Delight, Premier, Tifblue and Woodland. Care and cultivation of blueberries is the same for all varieties; they need sun and moist, well-drained, acid soil.
Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier erborrea) blooms in early spring with clusters of white blossoms before the downy foliage has leafed out. Summer brings juicy, sweet reddish purple berries savored by numerous birds and mammals. When the leaves have fallen, the silvery gray branches beautify the winter landscape. It is a small tree that can take part shade or full sun and is hardy in zones 4–9.
A dozen or so viburnums are native to the Southeast and all are known for attracting wildlife. They have lovely white, clustered blooms in the spring or summer, dark blue berries that mature in summer to autumn and wonderful fall color. Mapleleaf viburnum (Vibernum acerilolium) is one of the best flowering shrubs for dry shady spots and is hardy in zones 4–8. Its distinctive maple leaf shaped foliage turns shades of purple, mauve and rose in the fall.
Sassafras is a small tree that likes the sun or part shade with small yellow-green flowers in spring, dark blue fruits on the tips of red stalks on the female plant in the summer and brilliant leaves of yellow, gold, orange and red in the fall.
Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) is also known as tupelo or sourgum and is an excellent ornamental or shade tree. The shiny, green elliptical leaves turn brilliant shades of scarlet in autumn. The small blooms are a welcome nectar source for honeybees. The blue-black fruit matures in autumn and is favored by many birds and mammals.
Several species of Dogwood native to the Southeast offer valuable fall and winter fruits. The flowering dogood (Cornus florida) has white flowers (actually bracts), which appear in spring before foliage leafs out and spectacular fall colors from rich bronze-red to maroon with shiny red berries.
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is an attractive and adaptable vine that can be used as either a climber or a groundcover. The palmately compound leaves turn brilliant scarlet to deep red in the autumn. Sumacs are sun lovers that tolerate many different types of soils. Velvety red berries are borne on female plants and last through the winter. Red Chokeberry (Aronia ardutifolia) provides bright red berries that hang in pendant clusters and persist on the plant providing nourishment when little other food is left in the landscape. In the spring white flowers are fragrant and in the fall vibrant red foliage is gorgeous. This shrub grows from 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide. It is hardy from zones 4–9 and prefers at least a half-day of sun.
If you choose among these double duty natives to enhance your landscape, you will be rewarded with more wildlife in your yard as well as year around beauty. Late fall is the perfect time to plant, so now is a good time to visit your local nurseries to narrow down your choices, unless you have room for all of them on your vast property.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.