Catbird on Winged Sumac

Planted for the Birds, by the Birds

Dateline: August 13, 2011*

Propagation can take place by several means: we break apart large clumps of plants at the roots and plant elsewhere or share with others, we gather seeds and plant or share with others, the wind blows seeds, mammals and other critters carry seeds from place to place and there are many other methods, including propagation by bird. They eat the seeds, which travel through their systems, and plant them, “pre-fertilized” when they stop to rest and…ahem…poop. Sometimes they plant in excellent locations, sometimes in not so excellent locations.

Eastern Bluebird grabs a Beautyberry to plant

I thought, today we’d walk around part of my Florida yard to see what appeared along the fence line, under the flagpole, under a wax myrtle shrub and under a pine. I’ll call this my “Planted for the Birds, by the Birds” tour. At my house, as long as the birds are planting Florida native plants, they pretty much have free rein in their choice of location. Sometimes where they choose to locate a plant will become the centerpiece for a new gardening bed.

Palamedes Caterpillar on Red Bay during better days

Let’s start with a lovely Red Bay (Persea borbonia) that was planted next to an alien Pyracantha. This showed up under the branch of a very tall pine. Now, many people would have removed the Red Bay as being out of place, but I mulched around it and tried to help it grow, with the intention of removing the Pyracantha once the Red Bay reached a certain height and was established. I loved that I had something native coming up to replace a non-native that was gifted to me when I first moved here. The Red Bay did well for two years, even encouraging Palamedes Swallowtail Butterflies (Papilio palamedes) to leave their eggs, but it succumbed this past winter. Maybe it didn’t like the location but I think, in part, it met its demise since it was taken over by galls. Now, galls alone shouldn’t be harmful to this type of shrub, except for the fact that it was such a youngster and there were a LOT of galls. I still plan on pulling out the Pyracantha** after I replace the deceased Red Bay with a Red Maple (Acer rubrum) seedling that was passed on to me from a native plant sale. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with the Red Maple. I still hold out hope that a Red Bay will appear somewhere in the yard and “stick” next time.

I think too many of these red bay psyllid galls resulted in the young tree’s demise

In the front section of the yard I noticed that a Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) was coming up all on it’s own along the fence. This will happen often since birds will eat the berries and rest on a close-by fencetop. Think: WOW these birds are smart to plant a natural hedge to cover that ugly fence. While this might be in a somewhat crowded location, I like when nature plants things and I pretty much have decided to go with the flow. Beautyberries provide food for insects, birds, mammals and humans alike, and their bright purple-y-pink berries are eye-catching so from my perspective, they are a welcome addition no matter where they appear.

a baby beautyberry among blackberries and native grasses at the fence

Not far from the new Beautyberry is some Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) crawling it’s way out from under a Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera). I have a friend who told me I don’t want Virginia Creeper in my yard. Well, maybe she doesn’t want Virginia Creeper in her yard, but I’ve been gathering free seedlings from another friend who, like me, thinks it is a great vine that will provide for wildlife. We tend toward more informal gardening styles. Again, Virginia Creeper provides berries for birds to eat and good coverage for nesting purposes, so I think they are pretty smart to plant it for themselves and I’m only happy to help by adding more to their landscape design.

Virginia Creeper creeping out from Under Wax Myrtle is ok by me

Along the same fence as the beautyberry I noticed black-eyed Susans had begun to sprout on the outside. My initial planting of Rudbeckia hirta was in the back pollinator garden area. Based on new location, I’m guessing that birdy picked a few samples seeds and is sharing the wealth in the front garden. The more, the merrier.

They added black-eyed Susans next to the culvert among the camphorweed

I was thrilled this year to see Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) appear next to one of my pine snags. The berries are a favorite among song birds, but use caution in maintaining a bird-planted location as they are also poisonous to humans, so keep them out of the reach of inquisitive kids. Young shoots are said to be edible, but given that the mature plant is poisonous, I wouldn’t play around with it myself. I’ll stick to other ethnobotanical uses such as using the juice to make dye or ink which we’ve used at outreach programs to teach kids about great everyday uses for native plants. A while back a Pokeberry began growing in an area near my electric box. I decided to move it outside the back fence. It didn’t make it. That’s one of the reasons that I generally let the locations chosen by the birds be the locations that the plant gets to stay in. How I wish I had just let the darn plant be. My tinkering killed the poor thing and I’m sure the birds were annoyed with me.

Big green leaves and interesting buds make pokeberry pretty even before the fruits show up

I also discovered an Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) stalk growing out of the planting area around the flagpole that holds my American flag. The mockingbirds just love to rest up top and I’m sure that’s how this newcomer arrived. Perhaps not the best location…I suppose I could have dug it up and moved it, but I thought back to the pokeberry brouhaha and opted to just leave it be. I now look on it with loving eyes, although I’m sure others would be rolling their eyes.  But that’s ok. It was planted for the birds, by the birds, and maybe they just know best.

The elderberry stalk is almost as tall as the flagpole

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on December 3, 2010 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

**Update: The alien is gone and instead of putting the maple in, I  added a one gallon Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) which seems to be adapting nicely having gotten its first berries in 2016.

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