“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If all insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos” E.O. Wilson, Biologist, Naturalist, Writer
What is a native plant or animal?
Native species can be defined as plants and animals that occur, or used to occur in a given ecological community. It is important to note that these plants and animals (includes insects) evolved over eons of time together. This is called “co-evolution”.
Why are native plants important?
Insects of all kinds are in decline, due to the overuse of pesticides, destruction of habitat (farming, urbanization) artificial lighting, introduction of alien plants/animals and climate change. Without insects, birds cannot live, plants, including food crops, cannot be fertilized and nutrients will not be recycled. Our world is delicately balanced.
Native plants are much more beneficial to insects, animals and other plants that non-natives, because they provide better sources of food and habitat.
Native plants are usually easy to care for since they have evolved in our climatic conditions. They typically need less fertilizer and water than exotic species and they are beautiful.
Ninety percent of insect species are specialists. Thus, they require specific plants in order to reproduce and sustain themselves. Planting native species ensures the survival of insects.
Wrong plant, wrong place
Here is an example from Doug Tallamy’s book “Nature’s Best Hope”, (pages 121 -122) of an introduced plant species which we can find every day. The common reed, Phragmites australis is a tall grass-like plant with huge seed heads found along roadsides and damp areas all over eastern North America. It seems likely that it was used as packing material decades ago on sailing ships from Europe where it supports 170 species of insect. In North America after 100’s of years of choking out native plants, Phragmites supports only 5 insect species.
How Can Our Gardens Help?
You can start with a small space or replace a shrub or plant that needs to be removed with a native plant. You can tuck a group of mayapples in a shady garden spot that looks bare. You don’t need to rip out everything and begin again! Look out your windows: would you like to see various blossoms and a plethora of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds enjoying them? Maybe the view from your deck or patio would be improved with a native pollinator bed? Resources are listed below.
Diversity is key. Variety in colours, shapes and sizes will keep many different insects and animals happy, but not just one of each plant. Make it easy for pollinators to find flowers by planting enough of the same plants in one area. A patch of smooth blue aster, and another area of it in another bed not too far away will provide insects with enough favoured flowers. Diversity of blooming times is important, too.
Early emerging insects need spring violas, Canadian columbines, willow, service berry and other early bloomers. Dandelions are a poor substitute. Coreopsis and Echinacea are summer bloomers, along with prairie blazing star (Liatris aspera), joe pye weed and bee balm. Asters, big bluestem grass, goldenrod and pearly everlasting bloom in autumn. Add in vines, shrubs and trees! You’ll soon have an ecosystem full of life.
What is native in my area?
Check out the resources page on the website for more information!
Submitted by Leslye Glover