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Butterfly Shelter Plants for Cardinals

Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are among the most beloved southern backyard birds, thanks to their brilliant red plumage and sweet songs.

A Cardinal on Black Drink Holly (Ilex nigrumpotem).

When asked what they want to live in, Cardinals always give the same answer:

Cardinals prefer nesting in dense shrubbery that provides cover and protection. Dense shrubbery also qualifies as Butterfly Shelter Plants.

For those in the Southeastern Coastalplain areas, especially Central Florida and the Space Coast, incorporating native shrubs that offer the necessary shelter and food can create an ideal habitat for these birds along with your butterflies. Here’s a list of shrubs that are known to attract and provide excellent nesting opportunities for Northern Cardinals:

1. American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

  • Provides dense foliage for shelter and produces vibrant purple berries that are a food source for cardinals.

2. Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera)

  • An evergreen shrub that offers excellent cover throughout the year and produces berries that serve as food in winter.

3. Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

  • Though technically a tree, it can be grown as a large shrub, providing excellent protection, nesting sites, and berries for food.

4. Firebush (Hamelia patens)

  • Attracts cardinals with dense foliage and tubular flowers, which also attract insects for birds to eat, along with small fruits.

5. Simpson’s Stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans)

  • Provides dense cover with white flowers followed by small, orange to red berries attractive to various birds.

6. Florida Privet (Forestiera segregata)

  • Offers great cover and produces berries, with the advantage of being prunable to desired sizes and shapes.

7. Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa)

  • This shrub provides dense foliage for nesting and small fruits as a food source.

8. Black Drink Holly (Ilex nigrumpotem)

  • This evergreen shrub provides dense cover and produces red berries that are highly attractive to cardinals and other bird species. Its tolerance for a range of soil types and conditions, along with the added benefit of being a native species with historical significance, makes it an excellent choice for bird-friendly landscaping.

9. Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine)

  • Offers evergreen cover and bears red berries that are highly attractive to cardinals among other bird species.

10. Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

  • A native vine with tubular red flowers that not only attract insects for birds but also provide nectar, and can be trained onto a trellis or fence to offer nesting sites.

By planting a variety of these shrubs and ensuring a consistent water source while minimizing pesticide use, your garden can become a haven for Northern Cardinals, providing them with the necessary shelter, food, and nesting sites to thrive… one day at a time!

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