Updated: May 17
Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. According to the US Forest Service, these important plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, other insects, birds, and animals. Though they can be beautiful, nonnative species are taking the place of the best food sources for pollinators. For example, Crepe Myrtle is a popular landscape tree in the SE US but does little to attract and support pollinators. Excellent and beautiful alternatives are the dogwood and redbud trees.
Both have beautiful flowers and are hosts to numerous pollinators. Other unwelcomed plants are the Japanese honeysuckle and Japanese and Chinese wisteria vines. They are aggressive, fast-growing vines that twine around stems of shrubs, herbaceous plants (non-woody stems), and other vertical supports. In full sun they form large tangles that smother and kill vegetation. A perfect alternative is the coral honeysuckle, which attracts hummingbirds and bees, and has gorgeous, coral-colored flowers. Also, there are wisteria natives to North America, e.g., flutescens or frutescens, that are much less invasive and easier to control. These natives will bloom the first year they are planted versus the Asian version, which won’t bloom for 10 years. Finally, the English ivy is nonnative and makes a lovely home to rodents and especially mosquitos, but is incredibly hard on native habitat and can destroy whatever it’s growing on.
Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch caterpillars will feed on, and there have been numerous blogs and reports encouraging the planting of milkweed to support the declining Monarch populations. This has encouraged local nurseries to stock milkweed for yard planting, but not all milkweed has equal value. If you want to start a Monarch garden, be sure to look for native varieties in your area.
If you would like to learn more about regional native plants in your area, consult with your local native plant nursery, native plant society, or Master Naturalist organization to find regional native plant guides. For example, the Native Plants for Southeastern Virginia is the guide I have used to remake my backyard into a Pollinator’s Place. This free pdf full-color guide highlights 100 or so species of flowering perennials, ferns, vines, grasses, shrubs, and trees with a photo, description, symbols for light and moisture requirements, and wildlife value (butterfly, caterpillar, bird), and interesting facts. The guide includes sections on conservation landscaping; right plants for right places such as natives for dry or wet shade; native plant demonstration gardens; invasive non-natives of particular concern in the region and native alternatives. Additional resources about native plants and landscaping with native plants in Virginia can be found at the Virginia Native Plant Society.
A very relevant book to read is Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard, written by Douglas Tallamy. Additionally, he is interviewed by numerous hosts of interesting podcast shows, including the Native Plant Podcast, all free (search for his name using your free podcast app).
Go native - and make your yard a Pollinator’s Place!