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: https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/java/
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.
On this page
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 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.
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:
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 homegrownnationalpark.org
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
Ohio Department of Natural Resources Selected Ohio Native Plants
Plant recommendations for Ohio from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Native Plant Finder (beta)
From US Forest Service, National Wildlife Federation, and University of Delaware
Native Plants of Ohio
Selection for Ohio Gardens compiled by Hope Taft and Debra Knapke - 1/2020
Propagating Native Plants
Milk Jug Method
Winter Seed Sowing (PDF)
Recorded webinar about milk jug seed starting by horticulturalist Dolly Foster via Purdue University Extension
A story of a local home landscape conversion to native plantings...
Native Plants Reading List
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