Crabapples in bloom along a driveway

“In the village, a sage should go about
Like a bee, which, not harming
Flower, colour or scent,
Flies off with the nectar.”
― Anonymous

As March begins and weather starts to warm up, not only plants are awakening from their slumber. Also beginning to stir are many native and non- native bee species including Collettes ssp. Bombus spp.Honey bees, Andrena spp. and Megachile spp. These bees need flowers available for nourishment and food stores for their nesting chambers starting as early as March. Plants that support bees in spring may be native and non-native, wild and cultivated, weeds or ornamentals. The following are just a handful of plants that can be especially helpful in supporting bees from March- May.

Native bee on a dandelion flower

There are several non-native plants that flower in early March and are visited by bees- crocus, Whitlow grass, dandelions, Cornell pink azalea and daffodils. In the early spring, blooms are few and far between, and while daffodils are not usually considered pollinator plants, bees like honeybees will visit daffodil flowers if there is not much else around. The Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’ azalea is one of the first azaleas to bloom here in Connecticut. Loaded with pink blooms, many species of pollinators, not just bees, will visit these flowers.

‘Cornell Pink’ Azalea is one of the first cultivated azaleas to bloom in the spring

Korean Spice Viburnum Viburnum carlesii blooms in April and has abundant clusters of extremely fragrant flowers that attract many pollinators. Arrowwood viburnum is also a spring bloomer and is native.

Korean spicebush Viburnum has extremely fragrant flowers

Amelanchier canadensis, shadblow serviceberry, is a small tree or multi- stemmed shrub that flowers in April. Both bees and butterflies will visit the flowers.


Crabapples, black cherry and flowering plum attract many bee species and other pollinators in late April- May, including Osmia spp. like the red mason bee, Osmia bicornis. Cornus mas, Cornelian cherry, is a small tree or large shrub that blooms in late winter or early spring. Clusters of small yellow flowers appear before the leaves. Andrena bees, native specialist pollinators, visit these flowers.

Cornus mas

Dandelions and dead nettles, while considered weeds in a lawn, attract many spring pollinator species and a few in a lawn should not be the end of the world…

Bumblebee on dead nettle

Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, is a non-native evergreen shrub that can bloom from March- June, depending upon the cultivar. Flowers are white or shades of red and resemble the urnlike tubular flowers of blueberry.

Japanese Andromeda

Bloodroot is a low growing native perennial that can bloom in April. Many bees, especially Megachile spp. and Coletes spp. visit flowers of this open woodland species. There are many other native perennials that have early blooms that support bees. Including Solomon’s seal, Geranium maculatum (cranesbill), and columbine that are all shade tolerant.

Native bloodroot
Solomon’s seal attracts bumblebees and hummingbirds

Cornus florida, the native flowering dogwood tree blooms usually by mid-May. The native dogwood has white flowers and an open, layered form in forest understories, while cultivars may have pink to red flowers and various sizes and growth habits. Red maples are among the earliest maples to flower and bees will visit the flowers readily.

Flowering dogwood ‘Cheyenne Brave’
Red maple flower

There are many more plants that will support bees in the landscape whether natural or cultivated.  Consider planting a few of these, if you have the room and a desire for a little splash of color in the spring garden. I wonder if Ray Bradbury was right, when he wrote in “Dandelion Wine”-  “Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”?

Native columbine and Geranium Maculatum along a country road
Carpenter bee on native redbud

Pamm Cooper

A list of good plants for spring pollinators:

Acer (maples)         Phlox                    Lupine                        Alders              Lilac

Amelanchier           Violets                  Eastern redbud        Spicebush       Cornus spp.

Salix (willow)          Columbine           Cranesbill                  Sassafras         Currant            

Blueberry                Chokecherry        Cornus mas              Hyacinth          Raspberry  

Basswood                Crabapple            Trillium                     Dandelion       Phlox 

Crocus                      Viola spp.             Currant                    Dead nettle     Prunus spp.     


As the late fall days get shorter and the woody plants shed their colorful autumnal wardrobes, any touch of color is a welcome sight in tour mostly brown landscape. While we can’t slow the coming of winter, we can brighten our yards by using plants that produce interesting fruits. Aside from adding color to a rather drab landscape, many berry producing plants also lure avian visitors.  

On the way to work each morning, I pass mass plantings of several species of viburnum; their branches loaded with bright red berries, technically called drupes. Most likely they are either the European (V. opulus) or American (V. trilobum) cranberrybush viburnum. Both are somewhat upright in form with lovely white flowers in the spring and brilliant, small but plentiful red drupes. They have 3-lobed, maple-shaped leaves that redden come fall. The fruits hold well into the winter and are sought by many birds and other forms of wildlife. They can even be made into jams.

Cranberry viburnum. Photo by dmp2021.

Two other viburnums with red fruit have similar characteristics, but one may exhibit some invasive characteristics according to the UConn Plant Database ( Both the linden (V. dilatatum) and the Wright viburnum (V. wrightii) are multi-stemmed shrubs reaching up to 10 feet in height with clusters of creamy flowers in the spring, handsome, toothed, green foliage in summer changing to shades of red in the fall and persistent red fruit in the fall. Linden viburnums have been found to spread both from seeds as well as by layering, naturalizing on sites from the mid-Atlantic region into New York and Connecticut outcompeting native plants.  

Wright viburnum at UConn. Photo by dmp2009.

The wayfaring tree (V. lantana) and the nannyberry (V. lentago) produce bluish-black berries. While blackish berries may sound rather drab, the fruit undergoes a beautiful color change from yellow to pinkish before realizing their final color. Often all colors are present at one time making for a great show.

Both deciduous and evergreen hollies are also at their best this time of year. Many excellent cultivars of deciduous hollies (Ilex verticillata) are available in compact and heavily fruited forms. You will notice their native parents in wet areas with their red berries, attractive but less abundant and not as compact as the cultivars. While red berried forms are most common, orange and yellow berry cultivars are also available.

Winterberry. Photo by dmp2010.

The Meserve blue hollies and the China hollies are reliably hardy evergreen varieties with spiny leaves and red berries. Our native American holly (I. opacum) is not as cold hardy but does well in protected areas and in the southern part of the state. The species reaches 15 to 30 feet tall but numerous cultivars including dwarf and columnar forms might be a good match for your site. Keep in mind when purchasing hollies that males and females are separate plants. One male can pollinate 3 to 10 females depending on the species. Be sure to purchase both sexes if you want berries.

Blue Princess holly berries. Photo by dmp2021.

Cotoneasters are plants for all seasons. They have neat, oval leaves of a glossy green, white or pinkish flowers in spring, and lots of colorful red berries that last well into winter. Especially notable is the rockspray cotoneaster (C. horizontalis) with its arching branches. Cotoneasters are useful in foundation plantings and look lovely when their branches cascade over walls. The only downside to cotoneasters is the time it takes each spring to pluck wind blown leaves from their grasp. 

Cotoneaster berries at UConn. Photo by dmp2021.

Hawthorns are often overlooked in the landscape. Many species and cultivars are available with not only persistent, bright fruit but attractive flowers and foliage as well.

The red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is native to the U.S. and produces a great crop of red or in the case of black chokeberry (A. melanocarpa) – blackish purple berries that last well into winter. As the name suggests, they are rather astringent, but also high in polyphenols, which have been shown to have beneficial health properties. One can purchase numerous over the counter products containing aronia compounds. These plants are tough, adaptable plants that grow well from full sun to part shade and form 3 to 5-feet tall colonies as they spread by suckering. Birds will feed on berries as they soften over the winter. Fall color is notable in burgundy, orange and crimson shades.

Red chokeberry. Photo by Mark Brand, UConn.

Another intriguing plant is the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) which bears large clusters of iridescent purple berries on the tips of arching stems. This more southern native fruits best in USDA hardiness zones 6 – 10 or in more sheltered areas of zone 5. Plants are 3 to 8 feet tall and wide and work well in mixed borders. They tolerate heat and humidity well. Stems often die back over winter, much like butterfly bushes, so cut back when new growth is noticed in the spring. Berries are attractive to birds and other wildlife.

Brilliant purple callicarpa berries. Photo by dmp2009.

`Don’t over look our native bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica). Berries are silvery white with a delicious fragrance – no match for those artificially scented candles. Bayberries tolerate sandy, infertile soils but will thrive when given a choicer location. Like hollies, bayberries are also dioecious meaning that plants are either male or female and both sexes are needed for berries to be produced. Purchase plants in the fall so you can see which ones produce berries. Typically, males are taller plants, reaching up to 12 feet in height while females top out at 5 to 6 feet. Plants tend to sucker and either should be placed in a dry, sunny area where they can spread or make a note to remove unwanted sprouts a couple of times a year.  

Dawn P.

Juvenal’s duskywing on native Geranium maculatum

“The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.”
― Ponce Denis Écouchard Le Brun

May is a harbinger of things to come and the herald of things that are already here. Each May I look forward to the appearance of certain ephemeral wildflowers and butterflies that are worth the effort often necessary to search for them. For instance, small butterflies often have a limited flight range, and to find them, you need to know when they start to fly, what flowers they visit, and what the host plants are for their caterpillars. Some wildflowers can be hidden by taller plants surrounding them and a surprise when come across.

Eastern pine elfin on a blade of grass

The Eastern pine elfin, Callophrys niphon, is a tiny hairstreak butterfly  that has only one brood and a flight time that may go from mid-April- June, but is more likely to be found in  flying about in mid-May. Small enough to fit on your fingernail, this elfin is often seen nectaring on blueberry, huckleberry and wild strawberry near its caterpillar’s host plant, white pine.

Eastern pine elfin

Henry’s elfin, Callophrys henrici, is another small hairstreak with an early spring flight time. Mid May is a good time to look for males perching on host plants like redbud, huckleberry, blueberry and viburnums during the day. Nectar sources include willows, hawthorn and pussytoes. Where both species are found, you may come across both the eastern pine and Henry’s elfins in the same stand of wild blueberries or huckleberries.

Henry’s elfin

Horace’s duskywing, Erynnis horatiu,s is another small butterfly found in dry fields near oaks, which is the host plant of its caterpillar. Often confused with Juvenal’s duskywing which flies at the same time, Horace’s  has several larger glassy spots on the forewings. They have a rapid, darting flight and feed and perch with wings outstretched.

Horace’s duskywing

One flowered cancer root is an interesting parasitic wildflower that has no chlorophyll and depends upon a host plant for nutrients. An annual, once the seed germinates, a host plant must be found within a day. Hosts include the genus Sedum and members of the families Saxifragaceae and Asteraceae. The plant consists of a 3-10 inch stem with a single purple to white flower which is covered in hairs and looks like sugar crystals have been sprinkled on it. Look for this plant in May in wet fields or meadows among tall grasses with host plants nearby.

One-flowered cancer root

Garlic mustard, while an invasive plant and worthy of being pulled up, is still useful to bees as a pollen and nectar source. While of use to native pollinators, I still yank out any garlic mustard I can and hope native plants like Geranium maculatum will take its place.

Tiny bee on garlic mustard flower

Columbine and Geranium maculatum bloom for a long period of time and are visited by many pollinators, with columbine a favorite of hummingbirds as well. These plants are often found together along country roadsides and ditches, as well as power line right-of-ways. If at the edge of woods, nodding trillium may also be found nearby. This trillium has very large leaves which hide the drooping flower beneath them.

Columbine and Geranium maculatum

Fringed polygala, a diminutive wildflower that is no taller than 6 inches and has tiny pink airplane- like flowers is a personal favorite. Two of the flower petals unite to form a tube, with the third keeled with a pink fringe. They can be found along dappled wood lines in May or under pines.

Fringed polygala

Shrubs and small trees also can have striking flowers, and one is the nannyberry, Viburnum lentago. Tiny white flowers occuring downward curved panicles that can be 5 inches across. Flowers attract many native pollinators and later on the fruits are eaten by many bird species.

Blackhaw or nannyberry viburnum

The native pinxter is another shrub or small tree that makes itself known through its display of showy pink flower clusters that appear before its leaves and linger well after its leaves are fully out. Hummingbirds visit the flowers of this wetland plant.

Pinxterflower near a woodland swamp

This spring has had a good display of both native and ornamental flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs and early perennials. Butterflies are already more abundant than last year, and hopefully that will continue throughout the year. Spring is the forerunner of better things to come, but for right now, spring has enough for those of us who are wildflower and butterfly enthusiasts.

Pamm Cooper

Swallowtails like this spicebush swallowtail are in flight in May