Native Plants


What is a native plant, again?

Native plants are generally considered to be those which occurred in a region prior to European settlement. Native plants evolved in relationships within communities, not just as individual species. Those communities consist of other plants, the soil, insects and other wildlife, etc.

The USDA P.L.A.N.T.S. database is a valuable resource for determining whether a plant is native to a given area and can be searched by common or scientific name here:
read more)

Why use native plants in gardens or landscapes?

  • A healthy and diverse ecosystem is important for clean air and water, soil stability and provides critical food and shelter for wildlife.

  • Native plants evolved in a location or region within a community; they are adapted to the soil, climate and other natural conditions.

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Keystone Native Plants

Eastern Temperate Forests- Ecoregion 8
Keystone plants are native plants critical to the food web and necessary for many wildlife species to complete their life cycle. Without keystone plants in the landscape, butterflies, native bees, and birds will not thrive. 96% of our terrestrial birds rely on insects supported by keystone plants.

Soft Landings

Soft landings are diverse native plantings under keystone trees (or any other regionally appropriate native tree). These plantings provide critical shelter and habitat for one or more life cycle stages of moths, butterflies, and beneficial insects.

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Native Plants Benefit Wildlife

  • Insects - Natives support the 90% of plant-eating insects that rely on a specific family of host plants. A host plant is a plant on which organisms such as butterflies and other insects lodge and subsist. Specialist insects have co-evolved with their plant hosts.

  • Birds - By providing hosts for specialist plant-eating insects, native plants support 96% of North American terrestrial birds that feed their young insects, an important protein source. Example: A single pair of breeding chickadees must find 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young (more than 400 caterpillars each day)

  • Pollinators - Native plants are the heart of a pollinator friendly garden. Research shows that native plants are 4 times more attractive to pollinators than non-natives (Penn State Center for Pollinator Research). Locally native plants attract native pollinators. Native plants offer nectar, pollen and other nutrients in quantities that native pollinators need. Consider adding more locally native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants to the garden (Ohioline).

Native trees and shrubs are important hosts for lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)!
Link to spreadsheet at Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute reporting number of lepidotera supported by various genus of trees and shrubs.

Native Plants Are in Decline in Many Areas

The decline is due to:

  • Development

  • Pressure from non-native invasive species
    (see Invasive Plants page)

A species is considered invasive when it is both (1) non-native to the ecosystem in which it is found and (2) capable of causing environmental, economic or human harm. These species thrive in their new ecosystem to the point of displacing native species and disrupting important ecosystem processes.

Beyond the Backyard

A commitment to replacing invasive species with high value native plants will increase the diversity and number of animal species, especially insects. But to really support insects, birds, and pollinators, we must provide more than just some isolated areas of good natural habitat. Our gardens can become part of something much larger, something of vital importance to wildlife: wildlife corridors, or pollinator pathways or habitat highways.

Wildlife corridors connect habitats and:

  • Provide food, water and shelter

  • Allow wildlife to migrate and disperse with changing seasons

  • Boost biodiversity and resilience in degraded ecosystems

  • Safeguard genetic diversity

Gardeners can help reestablish wildlife corridors:

  • Parks/nature preserves alone cannot provide enough habitat to support native species (only 7 percent of land in Ohio is publicly owned)

  • If wildlife populations are to be successfully conserved, habitat must also be available on private lands

Images from Doug Tallamy's presentation to the Piedmont Environmental Council November 2012 Invasive Plant Symposium, accessed 1.17.2020

Some inspiring work on transforming yards from
Jersey-Friendly Yards: Landscaping for a Healthy Environment

Dr. Doug Tallamy is a leading advocate for this approach to native plants for habitat and ecological services they provide. He is a faculty member at University of Delaware. He is author of Nature's Best Hope and Bringing Nature Home. Visit

Gardening with Native Plants

Hardiness Zones and Ecoregions

When it comes to native plants, plant hardiness zones aren’t much use, which makes sense because hardiness zones weren’t developed with native plants in mind. In the world of native plants, ecoregions are what we need to use instead of hardiness zones. Learn more...

Creating a Pollinator Garden for Specialist Bees

Even through this resource is from the northeast, it has a lot of good information and designs applicable to Ohio. Creating a Pollinator Garden for Native Specialist Bees of New York and the Northeast from Cornell University and Cornell Botanical Gardens.

Benefits of gardening for wildlife using native plants
(OSU Extension W-17-04 ):

  • Aesthetic and recreational – native plants bring more life into the garden

  • Social and educational – good places for gathering and observing

  • Ecological – cleaner water, air; relationships in nature are supported

  • Economic – reduced lawn, shelterbelts, fewer soil inputs, less fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide

Practice Restraint in Fall Clean Up to Benefit Wildlife
Ecological Horticulture at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Part II)
with Rebecca McMackin
A posdcast from
The Joe Gardener Show with Joe Lamp’l

Native Plant Identification

Central Region Seedling ID Guide for Native Prairie Plants
Very helpful resource for early season identification of natives. From Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA.

Choosing Native Plants

Propagating Native Plants

Milk Jug Method

A story of a local home landscape conversion to native plantings...

Native Plants Reading List

Doug Tallamy

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy

Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy

The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy

The Nature of Oaks by Douglas W. Tallamy

Essential Native Trees and Shrubs by Tony Dove and Ginger Woolridge

A Garden of Wildflowers by Henry W. Art

Garden Revolution by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher

Gardening with Prairie Plants by Sally Wasowski and Andy Wasowski

Growing and Propagating Wildflowers by Harry R. Phillips

Midwestern Native Trees and Shrubs: Gardening Alternatives... by Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz

Native Plants of the Midwest by Alan Branhagen

Native Trees for North American Landscapes by Guy Sternberg

Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants by Heather Holm

The Wildflower Gardener’s Guide by Henry W. Art

Wildflower Perennials for Your Garden by Bebe Miles

The Wild Gardener by Peter Loewer

Resources for OWU Lifelong Learning Institute Class

The Importance of Native Plants in Your Garden

Resource List Handout