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This is Your Cape Cod: Keep it Natural

Cape Cod has many beautiful species of plants and animals, from mayflowers and lupine to piping plovers and eastern box turtles. The natural character of Cape Cod is what attracted many of its residents, and preserving it is the responsibility of residents and visitors alike. In the last 50 years, a growing portion of Cape Cod has given way to urban, residential, and industrial development—an increase from less than 10% to more than 30% of all Cape land.

The Cape Wildlife Center was founded out of concern for the unique ecosystems of Cape Cod and the welfare of the wild animals who live here. Naturally, the center promotes open space and native plantings to benefit all Cape residents—human and wild alike. We all need places to live, and our lives are richer when we share those places with plants and animals. Here are some suggestions for how you can make your yard and neighborhood hospitable to wildlife—Cape Cod style.

Plantings in Your Garden

Here is a list of some native Cape Cod plant species and the wildlife they attract. Many of these species, including cardinal flowers and swamp milkweed (or ice ballet), are readily available from specialty nurseries; others, like touch-me-nots, are considered "weeds." Please don't remove plants from the wild without considering the ecological and legal consequences. Some plants, such as mayflowers, are protected by state statutes.

  • American white waterlily: shorebirds, browsing mammals, and large mammals
  • Cardinal flower: honeybees and hummingbirds
  • Coastal sweet pepperbush: butterflies and moths, songbirds, shorebirds, upland ground birds, and small mammals
  • Common buttonbush: butterflies and moths, honeybees, songbirds, shorebirds, small mammals, and browsing mammals
  • Frost aster: butterflies and moths, honeybees, caterpillars, and upland ground birds
  • Groundnut: small mammals
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit: songbirds and upland ground birds
  • Mayflower: upland ground birds, small mammals, and browsing mammals
  • Spotted Touch-Me-Not: butterflies and moths, honeybees, hummingbirds, songbirds, upland ground birds, small mammals, and large mammals
  • Steeplebush: butterflies and moths, songbirds, shorebirds, upland ground birds, small mammals, and browsing mammals
  • Sundial Lupine: butterflies and moths, hummingbirds, caterpillars, songbirds, upland ground birds, small mammals, browsing mammals, and large mammals
  • Swamp Milkweed: butterflies and moths, honeybees, and caterpillars
  • Water Willow: small mammals
  • Wild Iris: butterflies and moths, hummingbirds, shorebirds, and large mammals
  • Wood Lily: butterflies and moths, hummingbirds, and songbirds

Tasty to Wildlife

It's satisfying to grow native plants to foster wildlife in general, but sometimes you may want to attract a particular wildlife species to your yard. For that purpose, here is a list of plants that attract and provide food for certain wild animals.

  • Chipping Sparrow: crabgrass and bristlegrass
  • Eastern Box Turtle: wild strawberries and fungi
  • Eastern Chipmunk: oak, hickory, maple, hazelnut, basswood, and beech trees
  • Eastern Gray Squirrel: oak, hickory, maple, and beech trees
  • Eastern Red Fox: apple trees
  • Flying Squirrel: oak and beech trees
  • Hummingbird: wildflowers
  • Muskrat: cattails, bulrushes, and burreeds
  • Opossum: grapes
  • Raccoon: oak trees and corn
  • Red Squirrel: oak, hickory, maple, beech, and spruce trees as well as serviceberry and fungi
  • Striped Skunk: grapes
  • Tree Swallow: bayberries
  • Woodchuck: clovers, grasses, and vegetables

Further Reading

On Native Plantings

American Wildlife and Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits by Alexander C. Martin, Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson

Landscape Restoration Handbook by Donald Harker, Gary Libby, Kay Harker, Sherri Evans, and Marc Evans

A Vanishing Heritage: Wild Flowers of Cape Cod by Mario DiGregorio and Jeff Wallner

Wetland Planting Guide for the Northeastern United States: Plants for Wetland Creation, Restoration, and Enhancement by Gwendolyn A. Thunhorst

Wild Flowers of Cape Cod by Harold R. Hinds and Wilfred A. Hathaway

On Native Cape Cod

Death of a Hornet and Other Cape Cod Essays by Robert Finch

The Outermost House by Henry Beston