Scherman Hoffman 2017 Native Plant Sale
Save the Date! June 3, 2017
Why Native Plants for Habitat Gardens?
By Mary Masilamani
Native plants are the best for our birds, insects, and other wildlife! Our wildlife and plant communities evolved together creating the ideal conditions for each to thrive. The life cycles of our plants and animals are interdependent. Non-native plants often do not appeal to wildlife, and sometimes they spread invasively in the landscape. Even cultivars of native plants may not be effective in habitat gardens.
Bloom times of native flowering plants are carefully timed to the life cycles of their insect pollinators. Migrating birds return to their summer homes in time to feast on early insect pollinators. They dine on sugary, early summer berries to get the energy they need to tirelessly collect easily digested, protein rich insects for their demanding young. In fall they fuel up on the fatty fruits and seeds of autumn before and during fall migration so that they can successfully fly to their warm winter homes. Winter birds carefully search for the remaining seeds and wintering insects of unmowed meadows or strip frost-softened fruit off of the shrubs where they nested in the summer.
Non-native plants brought here from other countries often don’t appeal to our local wildlife because they didn’t evolve together. Sometimes these non-native plants escape from gardens, become invasive and spread throughout our landscape. They choke out our native plants and reduce the diversity of our plant communities. Our wildlife requires natural diversity to survive.
“Cultivars” are named varieties of plants selected for qualities that people (not wildlife) prefer like large flowers, variegated leaves, or absence of fruit. Cultivars always have a name in quotation marks like Penstemon digitalis ‘Huskers Red’, a selection of the native Beardtongue named for its exceptionally red stems. The factors that make cultivars desirable to people often make them unappealing for wildlife.
For more information about native plants and wildlife, see Douglas W. Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants available in the Sanctuary’s Nature Store.
Mary Masilamani is a Rutgers Environmental Steward, a member of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey and the Watnong Chapter of The North American Rock Garden Society and a former board member of the Textile Society of America.