From the US FWS Newswire
From the US FWS Newswire
How ‘green’ is your garden? Well, now may be last chance this year to plant seeds of wildflowers native to your region that will give you low-maintenance blooms next spring and all summer long. Not only will they thrive — they’ll support native birds, insects and other pollinators that depend on familiar, home-grown species for a healthy ecosystem.
“Native species evolved in the local environment and have developed complex interrelationships with other area plant species as well as fine tuning to local climate and soil conditions,” says Kathleen Blair, an ecologist at Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Exotic plant species — non-natives, including many commercially available garden flowers — haven’t. That means, she says, “If you plant non-native or exotic species, a whole lot of other local species cannot use them.”
It’s possible that going native might help save a local ecosystem, or at least parts of one. That’s what motivates Pauline Drobney, a biologist at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa, where the staff is working to restore the globally threatened tallgrass prairie savannah. Each year, says Drobney, staff and volunteers plant up to 250 species of native plants on the refuge.
Does planting native mean sacrificing flash and drama? No way, says Drobney, who won over a skeptical neighbor by showing him the butterfly milkweed and blazing star in her yard. “It was just knock-your-socks-off color,” she says.
Some non-natives or exotics have become ecological nightmares, escaping backyards to rampage across entire regions, choking out native species as they spread. Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria, native to
Beyond that, planting an appropriate species will improve your odds of success. Some wildflowers are highly site-specific in terms of rainfall, elevation and soil type.
Here are just a few examples of some native wildflower favorites by region:
Great Plains/Prairie: blazing star, cream gentian, fall sunflower, prairie phlox, prairie violet, heath aster, bird’s foot violet. (“Not only does it bloom profusely, but it’s the obligate host food for the rare regal fritillary butterfly,” says Drobney about the last plant species.)
Southwest: lupin, beard-tongue (or penstemon; a real hummingbird favorite)
Southeast: bee balm, black-eyed Susan
Upper Plains: rigid goldenrod, wild lily
Northeast: blue flag iris,
For reliable information on plants native to your region, consult your local native plant society. For Texas see http://npsot.org/ Some other good sources are:
- Department of Agriculture: http://plants.usda.gov/ or http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/nativegardening/index.shtml, which offers a variety of links and native plant information.
- Native Plant Information Network http://www.wildflower.org/ – houses a native plant database and searchable image directory maintained by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
- Plant Conservation Alliance http://www.nps.gov/plants/ – contains links to plant guides by region.
- U.S. National Arboretum http://www.usna.usda.gov/ – search “native plants”.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service http://www.fws.gov/ – search “native plants”.
ED Note: Source for Texas wildflower seeds: http://www.wildseedfarms.com/. For photos of wildflowers seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge see http://www.friendsofhagerman.com/photos.asp?album=12. for more infomration about Hagerman NWR, the official site is http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/index.html
Bluebonnet photo by Callie Evans.