Planting Native for Our Future by Jill Kirby
As I enjoy the mid-70’s temperature on this mid-February day, I can’t help but experience mixed emotions. I love the relief of a warm Winter Day as much as anyone, yet I can’t shake the feeling of anxiety. I know in my heart that I should be cold right now! Since my son was born in 2019, my climate anxiety has been through the roof, and I worry constantly about how different his world may be from the one I grew up in. To combat this feeling, I decided to get my hands dirty (literally) and start growing native plants. As I continue to learn about native plants, their benefits and diversity I become more optimistic about the future.
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Native plants are those which grow in the region where they have evolved for thousands of years. This is so important because these are the plants that have also fed and sheltered the local insects and animals evolving alongside them during that time. These native plants and animals have come to depend on one another for survival. While exotic plants and alien species from outside of a region can be beautiful, they rarely support the local ecosystem and cannot nourish the many specialist pollinators that have evolved to rely on only one specific plant. This information is powerful. If we wish to restore declining insect populations that support the greater food web, selecting native plants is the way to achieve this goal. As the saying goes “If something isn’t eating your plants, then your garden isn’t a part of the ecosystem”.
The environmental benefits of using native plants go beyond increasing biodiversity. Because they are well adapted to the area, native plants are generally low-maintenance, conserve water, improve soil quality, and lead to the reduced use of herbicides and pesticides. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), there are about 1,800 native flowering plant species in Ohio. With this assortment, it is possible to include unique, rare, colorful, showy, edible, medicinal, and seasonally interesting plants in a native garden.
While I know I will always experience a level of climate anxiety, learning about and growing native plants over the past year has made it possible for me to keep moving forward and feel hope. To share and say everything I would like to in this article feels impossible so instead I will leave you with an invitation to follow the Lake Erie Islands Conservancy on Facebook and Instagram. I will be sharing additional thoughts, resources, and answering questions about native plants on these platforms and I would love to connect with you there.