The importance of planting natives

Native plants are defined as those that occur naturally in a region in which they evolved. After reading this column, I hope you'll have a better understanding of why it’s important to plant native trees and plants in your yard.

Over the past century, urbanization has occurred in the United States: 54% of the land in the lower 48 states is made up of cities and suburbs, and 41% is made up of agriculture. We, as humans, have taken over 95% 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 continue to increase.

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. Songbirds have been in decline since the 1960s, with 40% of them gone so far.

Native plants do not require fertilizers and pesticides like non-natives do. Fertilizers and pesticides contaminate Lake Erie and other waterways through run-off, so using less or none at all is an immediate help to the environment. Natural landscapes are also low-maintenance, which I know for me is a wonderful benefit! Native plants not only support bird populations, but also support pollinators. Pollinators are crucial to the survival of all living things, including humans.

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 is 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 (i.e. insects). 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 increases 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? Cleveland Metroparks has put together a nice guide for native plants that are broken down by height, sunlight requirements, and bloom times. You can find that here:

If that feels too overwhelming (believe me, I get it!) I have some good news! A friend of mine has recently started an “ecologically minded garden design company” right here in Bay Village. The name of the new company is Erie Shore Gardens. They will come to your house and talk about the types of plants you are looking for and then develop a plan for your landscaping. Native plants and natural landscaping are becoming all the rage, so hop on board this ecologically friendly trend! You will simultaneously help the local biodiversity in more ways than you can imagine.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:37 AM, 06.02.2020