Why Choose Native Plants


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Today, native plants are recognized for their value not only for wildlife, but also for the beauty and hardiness that they bring to the home garden, their economic potential, and their unique spot in the ecology of our environment.

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Why Choose Native Plants

  1. 1. Today, native plants are recognized for their value not only for wildlife, but also for the beauty and hardiness that they bring to the home garden, their economic potential, and their For more nature habitat information unique spot in the ecology of our environment. Visit these helpful websites: A Plants Home A Birds Home A Homesteaders Home Why Choose Native Plants For many years, native plants in What people today term this country were considered little “wildflowers" frequently include better than undesirable weeds. “exotic" species which have come from other countries and have Farmers cleared them from the become so well-established that land to plant crops. Gardeners we see them growing everywhere in pulled them up relentlessly to the wild, often at the expense of make room for “designer" plants the true native plants that they which may have started as crowd out. natives, but had been manipulated by breeders to reflect current Common examples of these standards of floral beauty. invasives would be Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and Early European immigrants tried purple loosestrife. to reproduce the lush gardens of their homelands, regardless of the The problem has become so differences in climate and soil severe that the federal conditions in this new world. government has finally written laws and established committees Then, as the pendulum swung to help find ways to eradicate back, “native plants" became a some of the most aggressive catch phrase, a rallying cry for species. environmentalists concerned about the loss of habitat for In addition, federal regulations wildlife. now call for the use of native plants in landscaping projects on What exactly is a native plant. federal and public property. The answer to this question isn’t as easy as you might think. All Most current definitions of plants (unless they are the native plants require that the product of human manipulation) species was present in this are natives of somewhere. country before Columbus arrived in© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 1 A Plants Home
  2. 2. 1492. There are plants which were Value for wildlife native to the North American As plants and wildlife evolved continent, and others that were together, adaptations were made regional natives. by both to ensure that each was able to serve the other in the Some experts believe that it is most effective way possible. As important to only grow those more and more natural habitat is plants which were originally native destroyed by development, we need Monarch/Common Milkweed to your specific area of the to help wildlife survive by replacing country. some of the native flora which is “The arrangement of lost. There is some validity to this plants in the landscape viewpoint, since even native Butterflies are a prime example. and the species plants can become invasive when It would be difficult not to composition of the grown in a location outside their appreciate the beauty of these vegetation largely normal range. For instance, some insects and we tend to take their determine the abundance species which are well-behaved in presence for granted, until we and variety of wildlife living their typically dry southwestern suddenly realize that there are far in any area." locale can become aggressive fewer than we remember from when encouraged by plentiful years ago. Native Shrubs and rainfall and richer soil. Woody Vines of the Southeast, A look at their requirements for – Leonard Foote & Samuel Jones, Jr. Why bother growing native survival gives us some clues to the plants at all, when there are so reasons for their decreasing back. In our own yards we can many beautiful species available numbers. plant native milkweed and once from all over the world. again provide a food source for the We often read in the newspaper monarch caterpillars as well as While it isn’t necessary to turn about the declining forest habitat nectar for a wide variety of adult away completely from these for monarch butterflies when they butterflies. varieties, there are many reach the end of their migratory advantages to incorporating journey in Mexico. This is indeed a native plants into your habitat, concern, but we need look no If you have an area that can be including value to wildlife, farther than our own local suburbs left natural, the common milkweed hardiness, and conservation. to find threats to their survival. can be allowed to grow. If you prefer a more cultivated Monarch caterpillars eat only appearance, butterfly weed “To these more modest milkweed plants. They have not (Asclepias tuberosa) with its ends, the number of people adapted to other food sources, so bright orange blossoms, pink- planting a piece of native if there is no milkweed in an area, blooming swamp milkweed grassland, not the size or there are no monarchs. sophistication of the Milkweed is a plant that survives individual plantings, is in “waste places," in abandoned what will matter, for if we fields and along roadsides. If we don’t grow milkweeds in have cleared the fields for homes our gardens, we’ll have to and shopping centers, or even for tell our grandchildren, “We cultivated crops, and mowed the used to see monarch roadsides or polluted them with salt in the winter, then there will butterflies long ago." be no milkweed. Noah’s Garden – Sara Stein With this awareness, we can take steps to bring the monarch Swallowtail/Butterfly Weed© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 2 A Plants Home
  3. 3. These are lovely to behold and may certainly have a place in your garden, but they are useless to the butterfly. In order for a butterfly to land and get its curled tongue into the nectar, the flower must be fairly open and flat, or tubular without a lot of extra petals to block the entrance. American Elderberry You can incorporate many (A. incarnata), or white milkweed different kinds of native plants in (A. variegata) all make lovely your landscape, thus attracting a additions to the home garden. wide range of wildlife. Purple Coneflower Using butterflies for still Fruiting shrubs such as another example of wildlife’s elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) that you will be benefiting some continued need for native plants, will draw birds, as will native species of wildlife because they are consider the common effort of evergreens and vines such as so closely interrelated. plant breeders to create “showier" Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus flowers. Starting with a simple, quinquefolia). When allowed to flourish in the open blossom, breeders will wild, native plants provide the manipulate the plant until the To attract mammals, you can diversity that wildlife needs. Food blooms are double or triple-petaled plant nut trees like native oaks sources are produced at a variety and ruffled and elaborate in and hickories. Whatever native of heights, and at different times structure. plants you choose, you can be sure of the year. “Native plants are an integral part of all ecosystems. Some berries are eaten Each species belongs to a carefully balanced system immediately, while others languish on the branch. These less-favored that supports other species. fruits will still be there in winter when most other food sources In a healthy ecosystem, plant and animal species have disappeared, and can mean interact to keep the system working properly. Birds feed the difference between survival and on berries from shrubs; seed from the berries are starvation. deposited by the bird, thus dispersing the shrubs. Every part of a native plant has Earthworms churn up the soil, aerating it and improving value, whether it be the nectar of plant growth; the plants drop their leaves, providing the the flowers, the bark for winter earthworms with organic matter for food. consumption or for hiding insects, or the leaves for forage. The intricacy of ecosystems – each with thousands of species of plants, animals, insects, and bacteria – The roots loosen the soil, boggles the mind. There is no way to know beforehand creating space, and sometimes food, for underground creatures. what the loss of even one species will mean to an ecosystem and, subsequently, to species such as Different growth habits create humans who rely on that ecosystem." shelter to suit every species. When we clear natural areas and plant – Lisa Fox and Peggy Olwell only lawn grass and a variety of Plant Conservation Alliance exotic plants, the results may be© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 3 A Plants Home
  4. 4. pesticides, both of which are Flowers may be shorter due to expensive and have a negative lack of rain, but they will effect on the environment. generally bloom. Trees that are severely stressed by drought will In times of drought, these actually produce more fruit plants will require additional (seed) than usual, ensuring that watering to survive, thus using even if the individual tree dies, up large quantities of that the species will continue. valuable resource when we most need to conserve it. Plants Native plants also frequently native to a given area, on the have a resistance to common other hand, have adapted fungal infections and insect strategies over many years to problems. Even if they are survive climate extremes in their attacked, they have developed natural habitat. the skills to survive. Milkweed plants are likely to be eaten by Those species which grow in caterpillars, yet their roots arid regions have developed persist and they return each Bluebell smaller leaves, or even no leaves year. at all, in order to lessen both the pleasing to human eyes which need for water and its loss Oak trees which are attacked have been acclimated to current through evaporation. by insects will not only survive, standards of horticultural beauty, but the next year will produce but little remains of value for Prairie species “cooperate" by higher amounts of toxic tannic wildlife. distributing their roots at acid, thus “fighting back" during various levels underground, the new season of growth. rather than having them all Hardiness concentrate on the nutrients Some natives have other Despite the overly-adaptable and moisture at a single level. distinct advantages over their nature of certain exotic species, cultivated counterparts. A many introduced plants are Although periods of major number of landscape trees, such temperamental and require a lot drought may occur only once or as the Bradford Pear, have been of work on the part of the twice in our own lifetimes, even bred to provide a mass of showy gardener if they are to thrive. species from normally wet flowers in the spring, but that’s regions will have seen many the end of their performance. This may include frequent droughts during their evolution fertilizing and spraying with and will be somewhat adapted. A native Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), by comparison, has beautiful white “When a soil loses fertility we pour on fertilizer, or at blossoms in late spring, vibrant best alter its tame flora and fauna, without fall foliage, and fruits which considering the fact that its wild flora and fauna, persist through the winter. which built the soil to begin with, may likewise be important to its maintenance. It was recently The Bradford Pear is also an discovered, for example, that good tobacco crops example of what can happen depend, for some unknown reason, on the when we tamper with Mother preconditioning of the soil by wild ragweed. It does not Nature. It has been used of its for landscaping because widely occur to us that such unexpected chains of uniform, vase-like shape. This is dependency may have wide prevalence in nature." the result of breeding to get all of the major limbs to emerge – A Sand County Almanac from the same spot on the Aldo Leopold (1949) trunk.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 4/span> A Plants Home
  5. 5. Genetic diversity is another Clearly native plants are concern. We have been breeding resources that we can’t afford to plants to favor certain lose or neglect, and yet the characteristics for so long that United States has indeed lost the genetic makeup of many of nearly 200 plant species since them is nearly identical. This could the 1800’s. Five thousand are at be disastrous. Just one pest or risk, with over 600 on the disease could wipe out an entire endangered species list. species, perhaps permanently. Individual concerned gardeners Already we have had to turn to and naturalists can be a driving native root stock to save specific force in saving species and in Fritillary/Butterfly Weed crops such as walnuts. By planting educating others about the a variety of native species, we may importance of native plants. be ensuring the survival of genetic While the result may be lines. attractive, now that these trees How do I find and have been around long enough to Most of the medicines used in use native plants. mature, many of them are this country – over 40 percent – Because of the valid concern beginning to split down the contain chemicals based on plant that natural habitat is middle. Having the weight derivations, yet to date only about disappearing more rapidly every centered in one area makes them two percent of the world’s plant year, native plants should not be exceedingly vulnerable to wind and species have been analyzed. gathered in the wild. Most have snow, unlike native varieties which very specific soil requirements, so have branches extending from Just 25 years ago, the cancer they are unlikely to survive points all along the trunk, thus treatment taxol was discovered in transplanting anyway. evenly distributing the weight. the bark of the native Pacific yew tree. Exceptions to this rule would be the “rescue operations" which Conservation These trees had no former are held when an area is The rate of extinction for commercial value and could just as scheduled to be cleared for plants and animals is at an all- easily have been rendered extinct, development. In those cases, time high. There are a number of a casualty of logging operations trained volunteers go in and causes, but loss of habitat is for other species. gather wild species which are certainly a major factor. Many zoos are now expected not just to provide entertainment and education, but are entrusted with the survival of certain species through careful breeding programs, often with the hope of reintroducing animals to the wild as suitable habitat becomes available. While we may not have the resources to help ensure the continued existence of Giant Pandas or Bengal Tigers, each of us can participate in the conservation of native plants, and thus the local wildlife that depends on them. Eared Coreopsis© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 5 A Plants Home
  6. 6. Cooperative Extension can direct hedgerows or evergreen windbreaks you to additional resources. along your property line, or create islands of native shrubs and trees Local nature centers and garden in an open area of lawn. clubs often have sales or “plant swaps" where you can get Traditional lawns are of very inexpensive plants and learn about little value to wildlife and require a what species have done well for large investment of time, energy, others in your area. and resources to maintain, so it’s beneficial to reduce the amount of Plants will have the greatest cut grass and replace it with more chance of survival if they have been valuable plantings. propagated in a climate zone similar to your own. Does using natives in your flowerbeds mean that you have to If you have the space, one of the settle for scraggly, nondescript easiest ways to add native plants plants. Not at all! to your landscape is to simply leave a portion of your yard unmowed. You Many natives are showy might be amazed at the wildflowers performers in their own right, while which appear when given the chance others become much more Foxglove to flourish. attractive when they are removed from natural competition and Even if the showier plants don’t given additional sunlight and then relocated and nurtured until grow right away, remember that water. they are reestablished. many butterfly host plants are “weeds" such as plantain, clover, Gardeners in England treasure Fortunately, today there are and vetch. the goldenrod which is only native many nurseries which specialize in to America, yet here we often native plants, and even Allowing an area to “go wild" will consider it an annoying weed. “mainstream" nurseries carry at benefit wildlife and ensure more least a basic selection. butterflies and bees for pollination As previously mentioned, follow in your garden. the lead of nature and strive for To avoid contributing to the diversity in your plantings. This conservation problem, you should In already existing planting areas means that you should have a ask where a nursery gets its you can tuck native flowers among variety of species and types of native stock, and only buy from your other perennials, plant plants (herbaceous perennials, those which propagate their own plants, not from those which gather them in the wild. “By observing native plants, the gardener gains a more While local nurseries may be a profound insight into seasonal rhythms and life cycles. resource for some native plants, a This, in turn, assists in developing a sense of identity wider range is available through with nature and the natural environment. There is that mail order sources. Many also sell marvelous sense of satisfaction resulting from seeds. Suppliers can be found in encouraging rare species of plants, or perhaps gardening magazines or through the Internet. reestablishing species which might once have been abundant in the wild and may have previously grown in Native plant societies, local nearby areas." conservation associations, – Gardening with Native Wild Flowers botanic gardens, and government Samuel Jones, Jr. and Leonard Foote agencies such as the County© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 6 A Plants Home
  7. 7. “When we walk through our late summer forests and see the profuse blooms of the white wood aster (A. divaricatus), we look at a mangy weed. Gertrude Jekyll saw it as a perfect late season plant and routinely incorporated it into her borders. Similarly, may apple (Podophyllunm pelatatum) is only a common woodland wildflower here but is a carefully chosen spring groundcover situated under rhododendrons on the grounds of Windsor Castle." – Easy Care Native Plants Patricia Taylor landscape. These would include the at natural areas around your amount of light, soil conditions, home or neighborhood and see temperature range, and amount of what kinds of plants are already moisture. growing there, do some research to find out what growing White Cardinal Flower While the species may be native conditions those plants prefer, to your geographic region, your and then choose for yourself some trees, shrubs, native grasses), a own yard will have its own specific native plants which have similar range of blooming and fruiting times, and an assortment of plant microclimate which needs to be requirements. heights. taken into consideration. Think about your own interests With the exception of large Even if it’s native, a shrub which when choosing plants for your specimen trees, colonies of plants naturally grows along the forest yard. Do you want to attract are more desirable than single edge, where it has the benefits of wildlife, have a wealth of flowers for specimens when you are trying to adequate sun and rich forest soil, cutting, create a colorful autumn benefit wildlife. is less likely to thrive if you plant it display. under shade trees or in rocky soil. As with any plants, be cautious of Once you have a goal, then you those which spread via underground When you are starting out, it’s a can seek out plants which have the runners. Bee Balm (Monarda good idea to take the time to look characteristics that you want. didyma) is lovely and very popular with bees and hummingbirds, but it can take over an entire garden, so be sure that it, and similar species, are planted where they have room to roam. Those species which spread by seed may also become a bit too prolific, but they are relatively easy to control and will provide seedlings to share with other gardeners. Despite their hardiness, it is still important to consider the basic requirements of native plants before adding them to your White Trillium© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 1 A Plants Home
  8. 8. REFERENCES Books A wealth of books are available which provide extensive information on native plants, their importance, and how to landscape using them. Some that WindStar’s naturalists have recommended include: • Easy Care Native Plants ,Patricia Taylor • Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast and Gardening with Native Wild Flowers, Leonard Foote & Samuel Jones, Jr. • Taylor’s Guide to Natural Gardening • A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold • Noah’s Garden and Planting Noah’s Garden, Sara Stein Internet Sites If you use a search engine and plug in “native plants," you will be directed to many nurseries which carry native plants, either exclusively or in addition to exotic species. Often there are nice descriptions of the plants and tips on what growing conditions they prefer. You will also find a number of state or regional sites which discuss the flora in that locality. For more general information on native plants, you might want to try the following web sites, many of which will also give you additional links: • http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/greenacres (landscaping with native plants and weed laws) • http://www.nps.gov/plants (Plant Conservation Alliance) • http://www.wild-flowers.com (GardenWeb – various links) • http://www.wildflowers.org (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center) • http://www.inpaws.org/links.html (more links) • http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/factmain.htm (fact sheets on invasive plants) • http://www.nhq.nrcs.usda.gov/ccs/backyard.html (backyard This article was written by conservation) Maryland Master Wildlife • http://www.mobat.org/cpc (Center for Plant Conservation) Habitat Naturalist • http://www.for-wild.org (Wild Ones) Cathy Gilleland. • http://plants.usda.gov (USDA plants database) For more information or for the name of a Master Wildlife Other Resources Habitat Naturalist in your area, National Garden Bureau please contact: Suite 310, 1311 Butterfield Road Downers Grove, IL 60515 WindStar Wildlife Institute The Plant Conservation Alliance is a collaboration between Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense, U.S. Geological Survey (Biological E-mail: wildlife@windstar.org Resources Division), Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service, http://www.windstar.org Natural Resources Conservation Service, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Agriculture Research Service, USDA Forest Service, and more than 150 WindStar Wildlife Institute is a national, non-profit non-federal cooperators (including WindStar Wildlife Institute). conservation organization Plant Conservation Alliance whose mission is to help Bureau of Land Management individuals and families 1849 C Street NW, LSB-204 establish or improve the wildlife habitat on their properties. Washington, DC 20240© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 8 A Plants Home