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Keystone Plants

Why Natives Part 4

By Beet 2021 11 Nov

Why Native Plants?  Plant Choice Matters!

Part 4 of a four-part series

In past articles, I discussed the importance that native plants play in providing ecosystem services.  Part three of this series focused on their benefits in cleaning and managing water, providing food, and supporting pollinators.  The final two ecosystem services that native plants provide are addressed in this article.

Enriching and stabilizing soil: Long roots and drought tolerance allow native plants to penetrate the soil substrate much farther than non-natives. Natives demand much less water, and pull carbon deep into the soil, making plant tissues available to soil microorganisms and macroorganisms to feed upon. As the life forms in the soil grow, die and decompose, the soil becomes richer and more friable.  Native plants save you money on your water bills!

Sequestering carbon – Plants build their bodies from carbon that they take from the atmosphere. Using chlorophyll, plants harness energy from sunlight to combine carbon dioxide and water into long sugar chains. Oxygen is also made and released into the atmosphere.  

Yes, that is photosynthesis (photo=light, synthesis=building).  Plants are literally building their bodies using sunlight. Roots, stems, trunks, leaves – all plant parts rely on photosynthesis to combine CO2 with water to create the building blocks for plant life. Native plants can store carbon in the ground for a longer time than non-native plants! 

Quercus garryana – Oregon White Oak

One last important concept for folks wanting to grow the most beneficial native plants – use those that increase the ability of our birds to breed and increase their populations; that’s the idea of KEYSTONE PLANTS.  These are the plants that grow the most species of caterpillar.  In other words, keystone plants are the best bird feeders you can grow.  In Southern Oregon, the top three keystone plants are native willow, native cherry and native oak.  If you can plant any or all of these in your landscape, please do so.

Native plants are not always easy to find in local nurseries. Specialist nurseries and native plant societies are local sources. As more gardeners ask their garden to support insect and bird species, they can in turn ask nurseries to stock more native trees, shrubs and perennials. 

Prunus virginiana – Native Chokecherry

Down here in Southern Oregon, the Jackson County Master Gardener Association has undertaken a project to propagate native plants from cuttings and seeds. We’re fortunate to have native shrubs and perennials in our Demonstration Gardens which can serve as sources for the cuttings. We sell these at pop-up sales at our Extension site. To help folks envision how natives might fit into their own landscapes, we have a Native Plant Demonstration Garden and are expanding our use of native trees, an important contributor to insect support.

Home gardeners with the time and interest can propagate natives themselves. A great source for propagation how-to is Geoff Bryant’s book, Plant Propagation A to Z. Just be sure you are propagating an Oregon native plant.  Use the sources below to find plants suited to your location.

Oregon Flora

Native Plant Finder

Plant choice matters!  Garden for Life!