Favoring plants that can benefit wildlife in severe winter conditions

As the winter season’s deep snow lingers on it restricts some wildlife’s movement and covers plants making it difficult for many wildlife species to find the food sources needed for survival.

Photo: Mountain ash bearing persistent fruit in March. Photo credit: Mike Schira photo, Houghton County
Photo: Mountain ash bearing persistent fruit in March. Photo credit: Mike Schira photo, Houghton County

The plants that provide later winter foods sources are important to both season long woodland inhabitants as well as those returning with the spring migration. Seeds, nuts and fruit available as a wildlife food source are usually referred to as “mast” by wildlife managers. Seed and fruit that remains on plants throughout most of the winter season are additionally referred to as “persistent mast”.

Landowners should encourage trees and shrubs that produce persistent mast and are also tall enough to make these food sources available above the snow line in your area. Good winter wildlife species in Michigan include winterberry, high bush cranberry, mountain ash, northern white cedar, some apple (varieties that hold fruit through the winter), crab apple, hazelnut, sumac and many more.

Michigan State University Extension in partnership with the University has native plant listings available which may help in determining which species will be most successful in your region of the state. Many plants require specific soil and water conditions to grow so landowners are encouraged to select species adapted to their particular local conditions.

For best seed and fruit production plants need at least a moderate amount of sunlight, so opening the canopy in forested areas around these important wildlife plants will help them grow and be more productive. Native species are preferred over exotics as wildlife have already adapted to their production. In addition, Life cycles with native plants are less likely to become problem invasives which can spread and overtake other desirable plant species. 

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