What’s growing in your yard or local park? Plant natives!

Common sneezeweed is a native plant that flowers from July to November and will grow in woods, swamps, meadows and other areas. Photo from Dan Mullen in Flickr Creative Commons.

Common sneezeweed is a native plant that flowers from July to November and will grow in woods, swamps, meadows and other areas. Photo from Dan Mullen in Flickr Creative Commons.

Today you're hearing from fish and wildlife biologist Dave Byrd in our Virginia Field Office. As a Partners for Fish and Wildlife biologist, Dave works to restore upland, stream and wetlands. He focuses on restoring streams within the endangered Roanoke logperch range, restoring longleaf pines in the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker's range, and restoring large scale peat based forested wetlands for migratory birds. Photo courtesy of Dave.

Today you’re hearing from fish and wildlife biologist Dave Byrd in our Virginia Field Office. As a Partners for Fish and Wildlife biologist, Dave works to restore upland, stream and wetlands. He focuses on restoring streams within the endangered Roanoke logperch range, restoring longleaf pines in the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker’s range, and restoring large scale peat based forested wetlands for migratory birds. Photo courtesy of Dave.

As we approach another Arbor Day celebration, I am reminded of how I developed my love of native plants. Growing up in Northern Virginia, I was raised by a father that loved working the soil and watching the fruits of his labor grow into landscapes both edible and aesthetically pleasing. Few pastimes brought him more pleasure than planting trees, shrubs, vines, flowers and vegetables.

After leaving government service, he started a landscaping business, involving his sons and daughters and further instilling a love of plants and nature in us all. It was said that he never saw a plant he didn’t love and this philosophy translated into bringing back to our yard any plant removed or replaced at each landscaping site. While many of the trees, shrubs and vines were quite beautiful and attracted abundant wildlife, they also included a number of plants that were non-native and in some cases invasive, such as English ivy, yellow bamboo and five-leaf akebia.

Sure, Callery pear in bloom is pretty, but a simple swap with a native tree would provide the same beauty while being better suited for wildlife and pest control. Photo from Creative Commons Flickr user wilbanks.

Sure, Callery pear in bloom is pretty, but a simple swap with a native tree would provide the same beauty while being better suited for wildlife and pest control. Photo from Creative Commons Flickr user wilbanks.

Most readily available landscape plants are non-native, originating from countries with similar climates such as parts of Asia, Europe, South America and other far flung places. Many of these non-native plants are not invasive and pose little risk to the environment, while others are moderately to highly invasive, escaping from cultivation, colonizing both disturbed and undisturbed habitats and outcompeting existing native species.

Unfortunately, many of these invasives are still readily available in the nursery trade. You can usually check with your state’s natural heritage program, department of forestry or native plant society to determine which species are considered invasive in your state.

https://flic.kr/p/JaDVg

Spicebush is a native shrub that produces red fruit in the fall and flowers yellow in the spring. Birds, butterflies and squirrels love it! Credit: Dave Byrd/USFWS

Instead of planting a Callery pear, Norway maple or other non-native tree for Arbor Day, plant a native species instead. Native plants provide all the benefits of non-native species (flowers, fruit, fall color, screening) with additional benefits including:

    • Shelter and food for native mammals, birds, and insects;
    • More resistant to insect pests and diseases
    • Little to no need for pesticides;
    • Adapted to local soil and climate conditions;
    • Less need for water/fertilizer once established; and
    • Nutrient removal capabilities.

While Arbor Day focuses on tree planting, remember that in addition to native trees, native shrubs, perennials, biennials and annuals also play an important role in maintaining animal and plant diversity, soil stabilization, clean air and water. So if you can’t plant a tree for Arbor Day, plant common milkweed for monarch butterflies or other native plants for pollinators.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and a Common Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus), both on Swamp Milkweed

Monarch butterfly and a common milkweed bug, both on native swamp milkweed. Learn more about planting milkweed at fws.gov/savethemonarch. Photo from Creative Commons Flickr user Dharma_for_one.

Sources of native plant information include:

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