Use native plants for pollinators, environment
RAYMOND, Miss.-- Native plants have garnered a lot of attention, especially because of their relationship to pollinators, but these plants are valuable for many other reasons.
In addition to pollen, they provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife, as well as creating biodiversity in the ecosystem.
“Native plants are critical to enhance biodiversity in the landscape,” said Bob Brzuszek, an Extension professor of landscape architecture at Mississippi State University. “Studies have shown even small backyards can be important habitats for pollinator insects, birds and animal life.”
While nonnative plants do provide nectar and food sources for butterflies and birds, native plants play an important part in providing food and shelter to wildlife. In fact, some native plants have special relationships with certain insects. For example, some native bees can feed only on the plants with which they evolved.
Brzuszek notes that native plants are particularly important in urban and metropolitan areas.
“Having native plants is especially important in growing urban areas near Memphis, Jackson and the Gulf Coast where wildlife habitat is dwindling,” Brzuszek said.
What are native plants?
So, what makes native plants different from other plants.
Eddie Smith, Extension agent and county coordinator in Pearl River County, explains that native plants occur naturally in a particular region, ecosystem and habitat, either on land or in water, and have evolved to thrive in that area. These plants include trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers.
Why are native plants beneficial?
Native plants are generally low-maintenance, easy to grow and less expensive to maintain because they have evolved to tolerate their environment.
“When you plant native plants, you’ll reduce pollution and use less energy and resources by reducing mowing and trimming,” Smith said. “You won’t have to use as much water or pesticides, either.”
Native plants are also important in food production. They support the insects, birds and other animals that pollinate all types of food plants, including fruit trees and garden plants, Smith said.
These plants can also enhance aesthetics and add value to your property. They can be used in the same ways as other landscape plants, such as privacy fences, windbreaks and shade. No matter what garden style one wants to achieve, there is a native plant that will work.
“The great thing about native plants is that they can fit any home style -- from the most formal gardens to country estates,” said Brzuszek. “Cherry laurel makes an elegant privacy hedge and even wax myrtles can be trimmed into various shapes. Perennial herbaceous plants such as yellow coneflower, salvias or our own state wildflower -- Coreopsis -- can be tucked into existing flower beds.”
Where do native plants grow?
Native plants can grow throughout Mississippi, but gardeners should know that they have water, light, and soil-type preferences.
“There are coastal plants such as Sabal palmetto that can’t take the freezes in the north, or more northern plants, such as white trout lily, that simply won’t tolerate the heat of the Gulf Coast,” Brzuszek said.
In addition to the Extension Service, local, state or national parks offer programs or information on native plants that are most common in a particular area, Brzuszek added. Conservation organizations, such as the MSU Crosby Arboretum, are also great resources.
Where can native plants be purchased?
Many local plant nurseries sell native plants. Local conservation groups or organizations, such as the Crosby Arboretum, also sell them. Many Master Gardener groups sell native plants during fundraising sales. Contact the local Extension office for more information about where to purchase native plants.
Tips for using native plants
Some native plant gardens can be viewed as unkept. If homeowners want to include minimally managed wildlife zones or native plant gardens in areas open to public view, Brzuszek recommends these tips:
- Create a well-managed edge, such as a mow zone or an edging of bricks or timbers to show that the landscape is being taken care of and not neglected.
- Include some architectural features, such as a bird bath or bench, in the planting area. These items add a human element that people can understand.
- Put a sign in a pollinator garden that helps convey the purpose to neighbors and passersby.
“Better yet, invite the neighbors over for a cup of coffee and tell them what you are trying to do. Education is the best way to prevent misunderstandings,” Brzuszek said.