April is National Native Plant Month!
Native plants are important for various reasons, the most important in my opinion and work is to support pollinators and other insects, which are the foundation of all species, including our own. All plants have their own defenses to protect themselves from being harmed and eaten. These mostly show up as biochemical toxins or phyto-pesticides. Insects that have evolved with these plants have developed biological ways over time to combat or get around these plants’ pesticides. This means that insects not only prefer certain plants but require these plants that their species’ have evolved with. It also means that native insect species just don’t do so well with non-native plants. While it is true that some pollinators and other insects are able to drink nectar from these non-native plants, the non-native plants do not offer much more in the way of other services. Native plants, besides offering nectar and pollen, also offer other things, such as being hosts to insect larva. For instance, the monarch butterfly whose numbers have plummeted, will only lay her eggs on a specific plant called, Ascelpias tuberosa. This is a native milkweed plant that is also becoming endangered due to habitat destruction. This symbiotic relationship between plant and butterfly also takes place with all other native pollinators/ insects, arachnids, birds, reptiles, small mammals and the native plant environment. So it’s important that we begin gardening and restoring things for them- and us. A great story from Scientific American on how monarch butterflies evolved to eat the poisonous milkweed plant: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-monarch-butterflies-evolved-to-eat-a-poisonous-plant/ And here is a link to NC native wildflower plants: https://ncwildflower.org/handouts/Native_Plants_by_Seasons_and_colors.pdf