Selecting trees for food source, wildlife


A few weeks ago, we wrote about the pawpaw tree and its resurgence as part of the local foods and healthier choices movement. Pawpaws, as well as many other Ohio trees, are an important source of food for humans and wildlife. Think of all the delicious fruits we enjoy; they are equally appealing to birds, mammals, insects and pollinators. If you are a wildlife watcher, you can enhance your viewing opportunities with your tree selection.

Mast, a term used by foresters and wildlife biologists, refers to the fruit from woody plants (trees, shrubs and vines) that wildlife use. All tree and shrubs produce some kind of fruit. Mast is categorized into soft and hard. Examples of hard mast would be walnuts, beechnuts, hickory nuts, hazelnuts and acorns. These are high in fat, carbohydrates and protein, making them high in energy content. Because of their hard shells, these sources are often available through the winter, unlike soft mast.

Soft mast is often high in sugar, vitamins and carbohydrates. Some common sources of soft mast include black cherries, persimmons, pawpaws, blackberries and black raspberries, all of which are perishable. While these sources are not available in large quantities in the winter, they become extremely important in drought years, providing essential moisture for wildlife and their babies. My husband and I raise blueberries and have witnessed firsthand cedar waxwings devouring the fruit during a very dry period. These birds are so beautiful and fun to watch that we are fine with sharing.

Mast isn’t the only benefit that wildlife reap from our trees, shrubs and vines. Ruffed grouse depend on buds and catkins (male flowers) of Eastern hornbeam and American hornbeam trees. Older American beech trees develop cavities which are desirable as nesting sites. Vines make great cover for small mammals such as rabbits. While carnivores, such as a bobcat, may not directly consume mast, the prey they feed upon do.

An informative publication from the Ohio State University Extension, “Enhancing Food (Mast) Production for Woodland Wildlife in Ohio,” is available at There are two tables, one for hard mast producers and another for soft mast producers (along with the wildlife that consume them).

Although the document is geared toward woodland owners, homeowners can discover useful ideas on what to plant for the wildlife they find most captivating. Planting a diversity of trees, shrubs, and vines can ensure there is food available throughout the year.

A few additional tips:

• Check out the mature size of the tree, shrub, or vine you wish to plant. Select a space that will allow the plant to grow into a healthy specimen.

• Do not plant under power lines.

• Do not plant over your home sewage treatment system or drainage lines. Roots can clog the lines, resulting in a huge headache and expense.

• Avoid invasive species such as tree-of-heaven, autumn olive, Bradford pear, Japanese honeysuckle, and other nightmares by checking out species,, and

• Call the Ohio Utilities Protection Service at least 48 hours before you dig at 811.

Now is the time to think about planting trees. The Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District is in the midst of its annual tree and shrub seedling sale. Find out more by visiting our website or by calling the office at 740-368-1921.

By Bonnie Dailey

Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District

Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to

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