What Makes a Plant Native?
Simply put, plants that existed here without human introduction are considered native. They are indigenous to a certain geographic region. Many native plant communities are threatened today by development, human activity, and invasive species. Often, the plants sold in garden centers are ornamental hybrids or exotics from another country. Some of these have escaped the garden setting and invaded natural habitats to the detriment of the creatures that live there. When we fill our landscaping or even entire communities with non-native ornamentals in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses”, we essentially create a vast food desert for local wildlife.
Bringing Nature Into Your Own Backyard
One of the benefits of planting with native plants is that they provide nectar, pollen, berries, and seeds for wildlife. Many birds species must stock up on nutritious berries before migration events. Oftentimes, ornamental exotic plants simply do not provide the same nutritional value to birds or insects. As a matter of fact, the caterpillars of many butterflies and moths must have very specific native host plants to eat in order to reach adulthood. Adult butterflies may visit a non-native plant for nectar, but most of them can only lay their eggs on specific native plants. Why? Because their larvae (caterpillars) must consume the plants that they have been adapted to for thousands of years.
Benefits Beyond Beauty
There are hundreds of beautiful native plants that can fit any landscape design. As they are accustomed to our local climate they are often more hardy, easier to establish, and may require less water. The deep root systems of these plants can also help protect our soil and prevent erosion or mitigate flooding. Not to mention their ability to improve air quality as they sequester (remove) excess carbon from the air. Another added bonus? They do not require the steady stream of fertilizers that lawns often demand. Adding more native plants in place of lawn can also minimize the need for lawn mowers and other gas powered equipment.
The Best Part? Biodiversity!
Native plants promote amazing biodiversity. What does that mean? Think of it as “variety of life”. Beneficial insects and pollinators are drawn to native plants. Birds, amphibians, and reptiles are then attracted because of the insects. Consequently, mammals visit more frequently due to the presence of food and shelter that is perfectly adapted to meet their needs. The more varieties of native flowers, shrubs, trees, and grasses you have, the more life you’ll find in your own yard.