Native plants, a vital part of our ecosystem
April is Ohio Native Plant Month and National Native Plant Month. April was first designated as Native Plant Month in Ohio in 2020, led by former Ohio First Lady Hope Taft. And now, for the first time, April has also been designated National Native Plant Month by the United States Senate, thanks to a sense-sponsored bipartisan resolution. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
Native plants are naturally present in an area in which they evolved. They are the ecological basis on which life depends, including birds, insects, wildlife and even humans. Without native plants and the insects that have co-evolved with them, native songbirds, in particular, cannot survive.
Benefits of Native Plants
Research by University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown that native oak trees support over 500 different species of caterpillars while ginkgo, a commonly planted landscape tree in Asia, only supports 5 different species of caterpillars. The non-native and invasive Bradford pear currently in bloom throughout Greater Columbus supports only one species of caterpillar. (The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has added all Callery pear varieties – including the Bradford pear – to the Buckeye State Invasive Species List. As of 2023, it will be illegal to sell or plant these trees across the state.)
Over 95% of all land birds raise their young on insects, not seeds, so healthy bird populations depend on robust insect populations on native plants.
Swamp Marigolds:Native Plant: Incredibly hardy marsh marigolds thrive in high humidity.
Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen and seeds that serve as food not only for birds, but also for butterflies, insects, bats and other native animals.
Native plants are often much more beneficial to native insects because they have had thousands of years to co-evolve and adapt, allowing native insects to tolerate the unique chemical defenses of native plants.
Today, many landscape plants have been collected from around the world, but many native insects have not evolved fast enough to be able to eat these strange and exotic foods.
Native plants for the landscape
There are over 1,900 native plants found in Ohio, including trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and grasses. These native plants are important for pollinators, birds, insects and wildlife.
This year, the Ohio Native Plant Month organization has selected four native plants to showcase to encourage gardeners to plant and preserve these native species. The plants selected for 2022 are bur oak, eastern redbud, northern spice and purple coneflower. Gardeners will find each of these native plants for sale at garden centers throughout Greater Columbus.
Let’s take a look at each of these popular Ohio native plants:
• bur oak is a large deciduous tree that thrives in many soil types, including moist clay, and prefers full to partial sun. Compared to other types of oak, bur oak typically has deeply furrowed bark and large, mossy acorn caps that cover most or all of the acorn. They are versatile trees, but bur oaks are particularly well suited to large, open spaces, where they can grow up to 90 feet tall.
Bur oak:Native Plant: Stately Bur Oak helps support wildlife
• eastern redbud is a smaller ornamental tree, reaching about 15 feet on average. Redbud trees are covered in clusters of small pink or white flowers each spring, making them an excellent choice for landscaping or decorative planting. They can adapt to a variety of circumstances, but have the best longevity in moist, well-drained organic soils in areas with some filtered or dappled sun.
Trees with red buds:Gardening: Redbud trees, native to Ohio, offer striking color in early spring
• Northern Spice is a shrub often found in the understory of deciduous forests. The Spicebush blooms with yellow flowers in early spring and develops red, berry-like fruits in the fall. The fruits and leaves can be used for spices or tea or left on the shrub for wildlife to feed on. Many different species of caterpillars and several butterflies and moths are attracted to northern spices.
• purple echinacea is a perennial often used in flower beds and landscaping. Echinacea are very popular among caterpillars, butterflies, hummingbirds and native bees. These plants prefer rich, well-drained soil with full or partial sun. Under optimal conditions, coneflowers can spread easily with little effort on the part of the gardener. The hollow stems of Coneflowers also provide winter habitat for native bees and other insects when left standing.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources maintains several lists of native Ohio plants categorized by the landscape in which they grow. These lists can be viewed at: https://bit.ly/3M0syF0