Native plants in the habitat garden

Primrose leaves ©Janet AllenMissouri primrose leaves

When I first became interested in native plants, I thought they were important because they didn't need extra fertilizers or water, they would be easy to maintain, and they restore a sense of place to our homogenized world. These are good reasons.

But then I learned from Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home that by far the most compelling reason to plant natives is that native insects (for the most part) can eat only native plants. Since insects are the foundation of ecosystems, this is reason enough.

pussy willow(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
Pussy willow (Salix discolor): One of my favorite native plants

So what is a native plant? As Wild Ones defines it:

Native plants are those that evolved naturally in North America. More specifically, native plants in a particular area are those that were growing naturally in the area before humans introduced plants from distant places. In eastern and central North America, native plants typically grew in communities with species adapted to similar soil, moisture, and weather conditions.

Bottlebrush ©Janet Allen
This bottlebrush buckeye is native quite a bit farther south from us, so I don't really consider it native to CNY

But another definition of native appeals to me more—especially in this time of climate change. It's from The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy (p. 93):

A plant or animal that has evolved in a given place over a period of time sufficient to develop complex and essential relationships with the physical environment and other organisms in a given ecological community.

I suspect that there's a huge overlap in the plants that meet each of these definitions, but this one allows for the possibility of plants being considered native if they perform the functions of a native plant.

Our native plants

Our native plants are described on these pages:

I've included information from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center about benefits to wildlife, including larval host plants, and any special benefits to native bees or bumble bees as well as their deer resistant plant ratings. To find more information, I've included links to the Wildflower Center's page for each plant.

Our plant communities

Meadow-type area ©Janet AllenMeadow-type area

Beyond just planting native plants, though, I've tried to also think about the plant communities they're part of. Plants in a natural ecosystem don't grow in isolation. They're part of a community that is much more than the sum of its individual plants.

I'm afraid I haven't been very successful in implementing this in my yard, beyond having meadow-type areas, woodland-type areas, and aquatic areas. They represent their respective communities, but I can't say they're an authentic group of plants that initimately belong together. So far, it seems far more difficult to learn about and to implement in our yard than I've yet been willing to attempt. I agree wholeheartedly with the concept, but so far the effort has been beyond me.

Woodland-type area ©Janet AllenWoodland-type area

Since I'm probably more motivated and interested than most people in this area, I'd say it reinforces the idea that it's far easier to preserve healthy ecosystems than to recreate them once they've been destroyed. Meanwhile, our society continues to blithely destroy the healthy ecosystems that remain, giving no thought to the future …

Although I don't claim to have created actual plant communities, I keep these three communities in mind when I think about my yard. (More information on this is in the Design section.)

Our community-ish areas are described on these pages: