What is a native plant?
A native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular region or habitat without human introduction. Only plants found in this country before European settlement are considered to be native to the United States. The word native should always be used with a geographic qualifier (for example, native to Illinois). Native plants include all kinds of plants from mosses and ferns to wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.
Why are native plants a good thing?
The distinction between native and non-native plants is important because natives have generally adapted and evolved with the competing flora, predators, and diseases of an area over many thousands of years. So natives are generally in ecological balance in their habitat and have pests, predators, or diseases that limit their abundance. Many non-natives, on the other hand, lack these checks and can dominate areas they invade.
Native plants have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife and offer the most sustainable habitat. Non-natives do not support wildlife as well as native plants and can overrun and destroy wildlife's natural habitat.
Native plants help the environment the most when planted in places that match their growing requirements. They will thrive in the soils, moisture and weather of their native region which can mean less additional watering and fewer pest problems. Native plants, with their deep root systems, also assist in managing rain water runoff and preventing soil compaction.
Do native plants in my yard make a difference?
Private residential property comprises approximately one third of the urban landscape and studies show that the impact of wildlife gardening with native plants is substantial. These properties can connect corridors of habitat necessary for migratory species between natural and larger protected areas of habitat on state, municipal and federal lands. They provide a continuum of resources if planted with a rich diversity of native plants and trees to supply the food chain for insects and the animals who depend on them. (Tallamy, 2007)
A recent study examined whether or not the matrix of homes and private properties between and near habitat patches (like parks, riparian areas and other natural areas) in Cook County, IL (Chicago Area), plays a role in supporting healthy migratory and resident bird population. The study found that “streets with bird-friendly yards had almost twice as many species as those without.” The study also indicated that the presence of a variety of native trees provides habitat complexity and is crucial to making these yards more bird-friendly. (Belaire, Whelan, Minor, 2015)
To sustain wildlife, your property also needs to provide the elements of habitat, food, water, cover and places to raise their young.
“Garden as if life depends on it.” Doug Tallamy
Where can I purchase native plants?
Native plants are becoming popular as the public’s understanding of their value grows. And as demand rises so does their availability from the following sources in east central Illinois.
Which native plant species should I choose?
Native plants have adapted to every ecological niche available in Illinois. To find what suits your need, start here.