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Why native Plants?  Plant choice Matters!

By | Beet 2021 08 August | No Comments

By Lynn Kunstman 

Master Gardener 2012 

Part Two of a four-part series

Vaccinium, Huckleberry fruit. Credit OSU

Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, Nature’s Best Hope, The Living Landscape, and The Nature of Oaks, is a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. He has written widely about the importance of choosing native plants for our gardens and encourages us to demand more from our yards and gardens.

Instead of just planting for decorative or aesthetic reasons, we must choose plants that provide the following ecosystem services:  soil enrichment and stabilization, water filtration, food production for humans and wildlife, carbon sequestration, weather moderation, habitat, and pollinator support.

NATIVE PLANTS provide ALL these services, while non-native plants do not.

Baby birds MUST eat soft food – meaning caterpillars. Insects specialize when they lay their eggs. Caterpillars, the larvae of butterflies and moths, develop from eggs laid on plants that have co-evolved with their insect partners who use them for host plants. Specialization allows the larvae to safely eat the leaves of a plant that might be toxic to other insects.

Ceanothus. Credit OSU

When we plant non-native plants in our landscapes, we grow fewer caterpillars. Fewer caterpillars mean a reduction in the numbers of birds. Recent research indicates that there are almost 3 billion fewer breeding birds in North America compared to 45 years ago. This is a 30% decline. Our butterflies and moths MUST lay their eggs on native plants.  Their caterpillars need to feed on the NATIVE plants with which they co-evolved.  Without native plants, we have no butterflies and moths, and our birds have NO CATERPILLARS to feed their young.  Caterpillars also supply food for reptiles, amphibians and small mammals.  They are a major component of all our food webs.

Choosing native shrubs for your yard will help support our declining bird populations. Some examples of shrubs you might choose are California lilac, serviceberry, and huckleberry.  These shrubs host 93, 81, and 130 species of butterfly and moth, respectively.

California lilac (Ceanothus sp.) likes full sun, has glossy evergreen leaves and brilliant blue flowers that open in early spring.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) can grow to 15 feet in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. It can be pruned to a small tree or leave it to spread into a thicket. Deciduous, with fragrant flowers in May and dark blue berries, it provides important summer food and cover.

Amelanchier alnifolia, Western Serviceberry, Pacific Serviceberry. Credit OSU

Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) will need more water than the others and will tolerate more shade.  A beautiful, glossy evergreen shrub, it provides extra early blooms for bees, shiny, tasty blue-black berries for you and the birds, and makes a lovely base understory planting in a moist, shaded woodland garden.

To learn more about native plants and how to use them as foundations for your landscape, visit

Oregon Flora

https://oregonflora.org/

Native Plant Finder

https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/plants

Remember, plant choice always matters.  Garden for Life!

Why native plants? Plant choice matters!

By | Beet 2021 07 July | No Comments

By Lynn Kunstman

Master Gardener 2012

Part One of a four-part series

You may be aware of the nationwide movement to grow native plants in urban, suburban and rural landscapes. Why is choosing and growing native plants in our gardens important? Why should we care? Because, as gardeners, we have a responsibility to care for planetary and local ecosystem health.
Most of us are aware of the list of environmental problems facing our ecosystems and planet: water and soil pollution by pesticides and petrochemical run-off from streets, lawns and roads; seasonal changes in weather and climate; invasive species encroaching into wild lands; increased risks of fire and flood; a disastrous decrease in insects worldwide – particularly pollinators; and a precipitous decline in our North American birds. Monoculture in non-native lawns in America now covers more acreage than all our National Parks combined. Nature has been driven out.

I encourage all of you to invite nature back into your landscape. Traditionally, when planning a garden, we ask, what do we want to do in the garden, and what plants do we enjoy? These are important considerations, but today we need to ask more probing and important questions as well. Before you venture into your local nursery and buy the “eye candy” you see, ask yourself these questions: “Will this plant improve biodiversity and support our local ecosystem?” “How will this plant help save nature in MY yard and neighborhood?”

For instance, if you are looking for a small landscape tree that will be a centerpiece in your front yard, you might be tempted to plant a Crepe Myrtle – a flashy, (human) eye-catching Asian plant import.

They really are lovely. But you need to look beyond just the beauty of that organism to you, and consider what it offers in the way of ECOSYSTEM SERVICES. In other words, does this plant:

  • Enrich and stabilize soil;
  • Clean and manage water;
  • Produce food, for ourselves and wildlife;
  • Sequester carbon;
  • Moderate weather;
  • Provide habitat;
  • Support pollinators.

Native plants do all of these things and are uniquely adapted to our local environmental conditions. What is eye candy to you – like the crepe myrtle – may provide none of these services. Our native insects need to feed on native vegetation and our native birds need to feed on native insects.

You might choose instead a native chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), native hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), or native mountain ash tree (Sorbus sp.), as that specimen tree for your yard. Each of these have beautiful blooms for bees and other pollinators in spring and all produce berries in the fall as winter food for adult birds. Most importantly, each hosts a large number of caterpillar species that are the critical food for nestling and fledgling birds. No caterpillars, no birds. These three, small, yard-sized trees host 240, 80, and 42 species of moth and butterfly respectively. When you choose a NATIVE plant, you are planting a living bird feeder and growing next year’s butterflies.

Use these sites to choose native plants for your garden:

Oregon Flora

Native Plant Finder

Plant choice always matters! Garden for Life!