Why Native Plants Matter

Foothill Penstemon supports hummingbirds, butterflies, and native bumblebees. (E. Wallace)

California native plants can be a little tricky for the inexperienced gardener, and if you live in central and north Orange County, they can be hard to find.

So why bother planting native plants in your garden?

Because wildlife, butterflies, and native bumblebees are absolutely dependent upon local native plants for food and shelter, and for feeding their young.

Bushtit collects insects from a native salvia. (K. Ethington)
Monarch caterpillars munching native milkweed. (E. Wallace)

Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society recently wrote about research by scientist Doug Tallamy from the University of Delaware:

“While walking around his home, Tallamy noticed that areas with non-native plants seemed to lack wildlife. His initial research looked at how many species of moth and butterfly caterpillars used plants, both native and non-native, growing in the Mid-Atlantic region. The findings were startling–on average, native plants supported 1-5 times as many native caterpillar species as non-native plants (74 species as opposed to 5).

Tallamy’s subsequent studies have reinforced this as well as illustrated the direct links between insects and other wildlife. A pair of chickadees, for example, need to collect between 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to feed their nestlings–and these need to be gathered during a period of two to three weeks within an area that stretched only a couple of hundred feet from the nest. Many other birds–if not the majority–such as bluebirds, barn swallows, and even burrowing owls, also need insects to rear their young.”

Carolina chickadee prepares to feed young. (Douglas Tallamy)

In Southern California, many homes have grass lawns, trees, and shrubs from other parts of the world.

Exotic species like Brazilian pepper trees, ice plant from South Africa, and Fountain Grass from Ethiopia inhabit millions of acres of space in Southern California but provide little value for the wildlife that resides here.

California Quail and Desert Cottontail enjoy natural area in Southern California. (E. Wallace)

How can we help our wildlife, birds, and butterflies thrive?

First, learn about the plants that are growing in your garden. Are they native to where you live? If not, it’s time to learn about plants meant to grow where you live.

Calscape.org is a terrific and easy resource with information about California native plants. With Calscape, you can learn how native plants grow, what conditions they need to thrive, and where to buy them.

Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano has a large inventory of California native plants, and they provide workshops and tools to help the average gardener understand how to plant and care for natives. The nursery also has a landscape designer who can help install a healthy native garden landscape.

And, if you live in the Moulton Niguel Water District, you can sign up for a program that provides financial support for working with a landscape designer to transform your grass lawn into a water-saving haven for wildlife.

St. Catherine’s Lace and Purple Three Awn decorate a patio. (E. Wallace)

Many people don’t realize that you can have an elegant garden with California native plants. Your garden doesn’t have to look wild and unruly (unless that’s your preferred aesthetic).

If you would like to see an example of the elegance that native plants can provide in a home landscape, visit The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. There you will see 100 acres of exquisite beauty, all designed with California native plants.

Scientist Doug Tallamy will be presenting Homegrown National Park via zoom on May 15, 2022 at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time. Click on this link to sign up for Tallamy’s live zoom presentation about why native plants matter.

4 responses to “Why Native Plants Matter”

  1. Nice post. I often use info provided by Calscape.org here in the PNW Seattle area.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s good to hear. There is some overlap.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How weird that the ‘4th Tuesday’ lecture is on a Sunday?

    That’s member walk day, we have a dozen signed up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I believe there was a conflict with the time–very late on the day scheduled for Tallamy who lives in Pennsylvania. I am glad you have lots of participants for your walk at the Brenton Arboretum. Perhaps you will have another chance to hear Tallamy present.

      Liked by 1 person

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