Planting Native Species An Important Step Towards Decreasing Invasive Species and Increasing Biodiversity!
With winter, and hopefully all of Michigan's "false springs" soon to be ending, many gardening and landscaping enthusiasts are planning their spring fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. One thing we hope gardeners will consider, is to choose native plant species when possible.
Some of the usual reasons overheard for not planting native species is that they aren't as pretty, does not fit it with traditional/cultural norms, lacks the landscape service desired, no time to research what plants are native, do not know where to buy native plants, expense etc... Thankfully, there are many options available that achieve both the functional and aesthetic requirements, and many resources available in helping determine what species are native to your region. In this article, we will discuss some of the benefits to planting native plant species and identify sources for the readers to determine what species are native to their region of interest.
Native plants have many advantages and benefits to both the environment and gardeners. Native species are well suited to local soil and environmental conditions, thus requiring less fertilizers, pesticides and less watering. Local plants and wildlife have a long and complex relationship that has evolved over time, with many birds, insects and animals relying on native plants for food and shelter. Native plants will help in maintaining species biodiversity by providing food and habitat needs not obtained from ornamental and invasive species. Residents and municipalities can also create rain gardens using native species. Rain gardens will help reduce pollutants such as bacteria and gasoline from entering the water system, and reduce flooding by absorbing excess rainwater. Native plants can also also help keep invasive species at bay, preventing loss of habitat and monoculture type of lawns and gardens. Various plants and grass species have also been used to help prevent soil erosion near shorelines and farmlands.
Michigan has a variety of native plants that grow at different times of the season, allowing your garden to be lush and beautiful all summer long. However, it is important use ethically sourced materials when finding plants to grow in your garden. Over the years, people have illegally collected plants from federal, state and local parks, causing harm for years to come. If not harvested properly, plants can die, and the seed bank in the soil can be lost. Loss of plants also impact pollinator species and other animals that need them for food or shelter. Unique plants such as carnivorous plants and orchids are commonly harvested due to their rareness and beauty, thus preventing others from being able to view them. Before you pick plants, make sure you know the law, have proper collection permits (click here for federal information) and know what you are doing.
In order to identify what plants are native to your region, there are several websites and organizations that can help! If you are looking for native plants that attract particular birds, the National Audubon Society has a search engine where you can type in your zip code (click here). If you want to search for native plants based on region, soil moisture, amount of sunlight, pollinators/natural enemies, the Department of Entomology at Michigan State has a website that divides Michigan into sourthern Lower Michigan, northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula (click here). For aquatic options for those living near water bodies, the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership has lists based on if you want plants below the water level, between the water level, above the water level and/or upland areas (click here).
Once you have identified what plants you are interested in obtaining, one useful site to visit is the Wildflower Association of Michigan. They have a list of members who produce and grow Michigan genotype seeds and plants ( click here). Hopefully this post has provided some good reasons for you to consider planting native species in your garden, some helpful resources in figuring what is native vs. not, and where you can buy them. Happy gardening folks!
For More Information:
Dept. of Entomology. 2019. Regional Plant Lists
Michigan Department of Transportation. 2019. Stormwater Management: Rain Gardens
National Audubon Society. 2019. Native Plants Database. https://www.audubon.org/native-plants
Wildflower Association of Michigan. 2019. Sources of Native Plants. https://www.wildflowersmich.org/index.php?menu=9
USDA. 2019. Ethics and Native Plants. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/index.shtml
USDA. 2019. Collection Permits. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/permit.shtml
Shikha Singh is the coordinator for the JLW CISMA. She has a BSc. in Biology from University of Western Ontario, and her master's and PhD at Michigan State University from the Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife. Her areas of expertise include water quality, water policy, invasive species, education/outreach and public speaking.