Preserving our biodiversity, one yard at a time

Native plants are defined as those that occur naturally in a region in which they evolved. I have to be honest and admit that I did not know much about this topic – but as I did my research I now realize how important it is that people understand the issue I’m going to write about and how easy it is to help!

Over the past century, urbanization has occurred in the United States: 54 percent of the land in the lower 48 states is made up of cities and suburbs, and 41 percent is made up of agriculture. We, as humans, have taken over 95 percent of nature. Lawns and exotic ornamental plants have taken over ecologically productive land. Lawns cover over 40 million acres in the United States, and over 3,400 species of alien plants have invaded 100 million acres, and that is expected to double in five years.

Landscape that is human-dominated is not able to support functioning ecosystems. As a result, biodiversity (the variety of life in a habitat or ecosystem) has greatly suffered. All life depends on biodiversity, including humans and birds. Local birds would not survive without the insects that have evolved along with native plants. For example, native oak trees have been shown to host over 500 species of caterpillars; ginkgo trees host only five. This is a significant difference when it takes over 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of chickadees. Song birds have been in decline since the 1960s, with 40 percent of them gone so far.

I’m sure you are asking yourself what you can do to help preserve our biodiversity in Northeast Ohio. The answer is actually quite simple, and if you do it, you will absolutely contribute to helping the problem. All you have to do it plant native plants and trees on your property.

Planting native plants gives local animals what they need to survive and produce. Every single animal gets their energy from plants or from something that eats plants. This is why insects are a vital component of the ecosystem. Alien ornamental species support 29 times less biodiversity than native ornamentals. Even modest increases in native plants in suburbs significantly increase the number and species of breeding birds. Native plants also help you use less water, as their deep root systems increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants significantly reduce water runoff and flooding.

How do you know if a plant or tree is native? The Audubon Society has a handy native plant database on their website. All you have to do is enter your zip code and the plants and trees native to our area pop up. You can search by the type of plant, the type resource the plant provides, and the type of birds it attracts. I hope, as you make landscaping decisions for your home, you will take this issue into consideration and choose only native plants.

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Volume 9, Issue 12, Posted 9:21 AM, 06.20.2017