Why Go Native?
The plants that we call ‘natives’ have been growing in this country for thousands of years. Animals birds and insects adapted and became dependent on them for their survival. Over time, humans have changed this environment.
When we speak of natives, we mean plants that were growing in the North America before the earliest settlers arrived from Europe. These settlers brought with them hay to feed their livestock which was chock full of seeds that were native to Europe. Ever since that time we have been planting non-native plants for what seemed perfectly good reasons. Well-known examples include Japanese knotweed to feed the pandas at the zoo (it is not a bamboo!); kudzu for erosion; burning bush because of its lovely autumnal color; Asian honeysuckle to feed the humming birds. The list is endless.
Unfortunately, these alien plants are rarely useful to our native wildlife. None provide food for caterpillars. The Asian bush honeysuckle, which the robins love, does not have the calories necessary for them to survive the winter! Most insect herbivores can only eat plants which share their evolution. Good examples are milkweeds for monarchs, parsley family for swallowtail butterflies.
Suburban gardens, big or small, can create their own environment, and if adjacent to other gardens full of native flora, can become a haven for birds - think chickadees and goldfinches. A group of trees along a street is a woodland; flower beds full of coneflowers, sunflowers, asters, bee balm and phlox are a prairie; lots of shrubs are the woodland’s edge.
More Information and Resources
Garden in the Woods (includes Native Plant Trust
Choosing Pollinator-Friendly Native Plants in Home Gardening or Landscaping
This site has many useful downloadable lists and resources.
Good local resource for seeds, plants and information.