What is the Native Plant Project?
The Native Plant Project is made possible by a generous grant of the Nelson J & Katherine Friant Post Foundation. The purpose of the program is to highlight the value of locally native plants to the environment, the homeowner, and the community at large and encourage the use of these plants in all landscaping opportunities. The Native Plant Project was launched in 2008 by the Friends of Runnymede Park, a Herndon, Virginia non-profit group (main website at www.frpweb.org).
Why are locally native plants important?
Native plants provide food and shelter perfectly suited to the needs and conditions of a specific area. Native trees, shrubs, and perennial plants have adapted over the eons to create ecosystems optimal for the area Using plants that naturally evolved to an area’s sun, water, and climate conditions means that they will require minimal fertilizer and supplemental water, are attractive together, and are beneficial to the land and the bird, reptile, and insect life of the area. Native birds and insects do not recognize and cannot utilize alien plants introduced into local landscaping. The result is a reduction of the number and diversity of birds and beneficial pollinators that so many of us wish to see replenished in our communities as these plants crowd out the plants that help to identify a locality to its sense of place.
What do locally native plants do for us?
Native plants prevent the homogenization of communities by creating distinctive landscaping that is not replicated in every cookie-cutter development across the continent. It attracts beneficial insects that are desperate to find food and shelter that they recognize for their survival. These in turn attract songbirds, turtles, frogs, and other reptiles that brighten our yards and prevent their decline.
Who benefits from locally Native Plant Gardens?
We all benefit. Less fertilizer use with well established root systems in existing soil conditions means less polluting stormwater run off to our streams allowing healthier stream habitat and less conditioning at waste water treatment plants. Less watering means money saved and better use of our treated water supply. The community benefits by gaining a better sense of place as visitors see the distinctive plants and resulting bird, reptile and insect life that were here when the first settlers came to the area to build their lives. It is one way of preserving the heritage of a community.
Why not landscape with non-local, but native plants?
Though these plants may survive, sometimes even without additional fertilizer or other support, they still will only supply part of the habitat equation. A plant that is locally native to the Blue Ridge Mountains may survive in the Coastal Plain, but the insects that it depends on to pollinate its flowers may not exist there and so the plant will neither reproduce, nor feed the butterflies and birds that live there. As more land of our diminishing open space is taken up with these plants, the tougher is the fight for the diverse life that belongs to that area. Eliminate all the milkweed plants, host plant of the monarch butterfly, from an area and you will lose all the monarchs and many of the birds that depend on them for survival.
What is wrong with alien, invasive plants?
In most cases these plants are part of a well balanced ecosystem in their home localities with insect and animal life that depend on them for food and shelter. When taken out of these ecosystems and put into alien territories, the balance is removed. Insects and other grazers that may have kept the plants’ numbers in check don’t exist in the new area and the alien plants will take over the sun and soil from the native plants that are properly controlled by predatory life. Migratory birds may eat the berries of these alien plants (like multi-flora rose) that lack the nutrition that these birds need to make their long journeys and not be able to make it to their wintering grounds. The seeds that the birds dispel in native woodlands may take root and without local predatory control, overcome native plant life and reduce the biodiversity of our open spaces.
What can I do to help?
Find the plants that are locally native to your area and will best meet the needs of your soil and sun conditions. Plant a variety of plants that will give height layers to your landscaping with trees, shrubs, and ground hugging perennials to give the broadest array of shelter for local wildlife. Look for plants that bloom at successive periods to lengthen the value of the food opportunity for pollinators and add color to your garden throughout the season. Allow the seed heads to stay on the plants for the local birds to enjoy and allow caterpillars to munch on a few leaves and hang their chrysalises on the stems until they hatch. Most local landscapers and nurseries can help with your list, ask those that you use to sign those plants that are locally native. You can also go to your state and local agriculture agencies, or local volunteer organizations dedicated to protecting native plant life for help. In Virginia you can go to the Virginia Native Plant Society at: www.vnps.org , or in the Herndon area, to the Friends of Runnymede Park at: www.frpweb.org.