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Great Lakes native flora

3 | The importance of native landscaping

The endangered Karner blue butterfly resting on lupine. Native plants are plants that have evolved in a particular region over many thousands of years. Therefore, they have adapted to the climate, geography and animal populations of the region. Native plants provide habitat to and are a source of food for animals, such as birds, butterflies and mammals.

Native landscaping makes an effort to reestablish native plant populations to a certain area, whether it be as small as your backyard or as large as a nature preserve. Some benefits of planting native plants include the following.

Native plants save energy and reduce pollution
Native plants do not need fertilizer or irrigation, and they can usually resist most native pests and diseases. Plants also absorb rainfall into the soil, reducing soil erosion and runoff.

Click for larger image. Native plants provide a diverse landscape
Because native plants are part of a community that includes other plants and animals, a natural balance has developed between the living organisms. Therefore, single species of native plants don't dominate a landscape, like the non-native purple loosestrife does. Native plants also promote biodiversity; therefore, a landscape full of native plants provides many different shapes, sizes, textures and colors.

Native plants help the animals
As discussed earlier, native plants provide shelter and food to birds, butterflies and other wildlife, promoting biodiversity. In contrast, mowed lawns are of little use to most wildlife. Because many animal habitats today are being lost to urban development, consciously creating or maintaining a habitat full of native plants can be of great help and relief to animals looking for a home.

Native plants can save money
Because native plants are adapted to a certain region, they do not need to be watered as often, nor do they need frequent fertilization, therefore reducing the cost of maintaining a large area of plants. A study by Applied Ecological Services (Brodhead, Wis.) estimates that over a 20-year period, the cost of maintaining a prairie or a wetland totals $3,000 per acre versus $20,000 per acre for non-native turf grasses.

Native plants provide links to a region's natural heritage
Native plants are historical, with many playing a significant role in Native American culture and European exploration. Additionally, a garden full of native plants can distinguish your region from another. Imagine what your native plant garden would look like next to a garden found in the desert areas of the southwest!

Graphics: Karner blue butterfly and lupine; Wolf Road Prairie, Illinois (credit: Save the Prairie Society)

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