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Native Plants

Thanks to our horticulture specialist, Megan, we were able to capture a video full of great information on well behaved natives. A big thank you to Lissa Morrison, for sharing her work with us, so that we can share it with all of you! Below you can find an attachment of a list of well behaved natives, as well as a list of native plants for shady spots, compiled by Lissa over the past 18 years.

Watch Megan here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tCfewnco5XLV20YmqjyPutiECsm0YtkR/view

View the full lists here:

Are We Doing Enough for our Butterflies and Birds? 

By Lissa Morrison

Arkansas Native Plant Society Education Committee
VP Wild Ones Ozark Chapter
Botanical Garden of the Ozarks – retired

Environmental issues are covered extensively in today’s media. Many of us are interested in ‘doing our part’ and getting involved, but it can be a daunting task to sort through all the information and decide where to begin. Fortunately, we can begin in our own backyards. 

While we are all paying more attention to our planet, let us start with some basic science to get an understanding of the problem. In elementary or middle school, we were taught about the food web. If you recall, plants are at the bottom of the food web. Plants are the basis of all higher-level life forms. That means frogs, turtles, butterflies, birds, chipmunks, foxes, owls, insects, and humans are all dependent on plants. 

When you look around, it appears that plants are in no short supply, especially in Arkansas where we seem to have an abundance of forests and lush green everywhere. However, when it comes to a healthy, thriving food web, not just any plant will do. Local ecosystems have evolved over thousands of years with very interdependent relationships. Nine out of ten insects rely on just 1 or 2 specific native plants to complete their life cycle, without which they cannot reproduce. If our insects are in decline, then the special critters higher on the food web will also decline. This includes butterflies and birds. 

According to the National Wildlife Federation, “A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem or habitat without human intervention.” Native plants were here long before the United States was a country and before Arkansas was a state. 

When the European settlers came across the ocean, they had a hard time parting with their beloved plants. As they populated the continent, the newcomers chose to decorate their surroundings with lovely plants from their home countries. From the beginning we have been beautifying our landscapes and homes with exotic transplants, creating ecological wastelands (full of plants) in our own neighborhoods. 

As we have populated North America with more cities, suburbs, and people, beautifying with non-native transplants has begun to starve our local ecosystems. Our communities have become relatively dense, dense enough to break up what was once a continuous flow of thriving habitats across the continent. This is called fragmentation, and it is particularly harmful to any insect or animal that migrates. Many North American birds and butterflies migrate. Landscaping with non-native plants is ecologically counterproductive, and has created neighborhoods, towns and cities that have diminishing numbers of birds and butterflies. 

Only in the last 40 or so years have we begun to pay attention to this tipping of the scales. Studies are now showing the alarming rate of decline, not only of birds and butterflies, but of many other beloved creatures…frogs, turtles, salamanders, fireflies and most notably the monarch butterfly. Native plants are the key to reversing this alarming trend and bringing ecosystems back into balance. 

It is possible, collectively and as individuals, to make the changes necessary for us to co-exist with nature. If we design our urban settings, commercial buildings, and neighborhoods with native plants we can help rebuild the fragile food web. 

Imagine if across our county we decided that landscaping for a healthy ecology was as much a priority as landscaping for aesthetics. If we want to rebuild healthy, productive, biodiverse habitats that is exactly what we need to do. The benefits would be literally life-altering. 

Recent research found Carolina Chickadees in decline in yards with less than 70 percent native plants. Young chicks need protein, which cannot be obtained from the seed mixes we put in our bird feeders. A large part of that protein comes from caterpillars, brought to the chicks by their doting parents. Native trees and shrubs are home to huge numbers of caterpillars. The caterpillars are there because native plants are where the butterfly or moth lays its eggs. A native oak tree supports more than 500 different kinds of butterflies and moths. Non-native trees provide zero to very few caterpillars. The result of fewer caterpillars is fewer birds. Without native plants butterflies and birds will continue to decline. 

Native plants are as attractive as the beautiful exotics that we have been using for centuries. Granted, it is a whole new set of plants that we are becoming familiar with. Design principles are the same regardless of which plant you choose. Just like any plant purchased from the garden center, knowing the soil, water and light requirements will increase your success. Elegant landscapes with mostly native plants can be very appealing and attractive. 

Hopefully, you are convinced by now that we need to change some of our landscaping and gardening practices. We can rebuild functioning ecosystems right in our yards, simply by choosing native trees, shrubs, and perennials. This is the key to having more birds and butterflies. Additionally, landscaping with native plants will reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and water. These plants have existed for centuries without human intervention. The result will be our lakes, streams and drinking water will be less polluted. 

From environmental educators to garden groups and webinars, education on how to landscape with and incorporate native plants is being offered all over the country. The ‘how to’ of this new gardening ethic will require a willingness to break out of the box and try some plants we are not yet familiar with. There are many excellent websites to help with this process. Some of my favorites are Missouri Botanical Garden, National Wildlife Foundation, Missouri Prairie Foundation, and Xerces Society. They are all full of educational material and information. Be sure to research according to the region in which you live. 

The next time you have a landscaping project, try doing research on native plant options that fit the spot you are working with. Pay attention to soil, water, and sun requirements. Another important consideration is whether the plant is better suited for an intentional garden or for a wilder more natural area. After you have found appropriate choices try shopping with a list in hand. Over the last several years I have compiled a list called Well Behaved Natives for Landscaping. My intention is to give suggestions that are well suited to typical landscaped spaces.

Are we doing enough for the birds and butterflies? Not quite yet. However, it is most definitely possible for us to bring our surroundings back into balance. Changing our plant selections, increasing the percentage of native plants in our own yards, is an easy way for us to ‘do our part.’ It is one positive contribution we can all make, and in the process, we will enjoy more butterflies and more birds. Collectively we can make a difference… one yard at a time.