When I was first getting into permaculture (the design of human environments that provide a net benefit to ecosystems, as opposed to taking more than they give back), I didn’t think much about native plants; I was more focused on growing food for humans.
In recent years, though, I have repeatedly run up against the reality that native plants are incredibly important. Indeed, without them, we wouldn’t be able to feed ourselves. Here is a short list of their benefits:
food and habitat for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators
uptake/filtration of nutrients that would otherwise run off into waterways, causing pollution
food and habitat for wild animals
Now, plants other than native plants can provide most of these benefits (such as stormwater mitigation and nutrient uptake/filtration) also. The only problem is that if we don’t preserve native plants in each region, we risk depriving pollinators of essential food and habitat. Furthermore, unlike natives, nonnative plants can be invasive, taking over a habitat and crowding out the native species.
If you want to learn more about native plants, and connect with people who value them, I suggest attending a meeting of your local native plant society. The North American Native Plant Society offers a list of native plant societies in the USA and Canada. I have become a regular at my local native-plant group, the Pawpaw Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. I’m learning a lot, and am making connections with people who are working on major essential tasks such as wildlife habitat preservation and watershed protection/rehabilitation.
At one recent meeting, the guest speaker was the founder of Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company, which produces tea from the Yaupon holly, a Florida native plant that is a natural source of caffeine. (I think of yaupon tea as North American yerba mate!) In the course of producing its product, Yaupon Brothers is also providing regenerative livelihoods to local people, caring for nature, and respecting native culture. Everybody wins!
I hope you find a native plant society near you. And if there’s not a group near you, maybe you could start one.
A big part of my yard is now covered with native wildflowers and native grasses. I recently posted to my YouTube channel a “Deep Green Minute” dedicated to the Gaillardia (Blanket Flower), one of my favorite wildflowers native to my region. Along with this striking orange-and-yellow flower, the minute-long video shows other native plants, and a ladybug pupa. Go here to enjoy! (By the way, my channel now has about 40 videos but they don’t all seem to show up on the list; only a very few of them are showing up on the list right now — sorry about that. Not sure what’s up with that! Or maybe you can see them all on your end, I don’t know. If you figure out anything do me a favor and drop me a line; I am not always able to troubleshoot this kind of thing by myself.)
And here’s another YouTube channel you might enjoy: Halifax River Urban Watershed Initiative. On this channel, Dr. J Cho, who I met when she came to speak at our native plant society (on the topic of using native plants for stormwater mitigation), is making videos highlighting various people in our area who are helping to protect our watershed in some way. Examples include a restaurant that is composting its kitchen scraps rather than sending them to landfill; and a local group that extends recognition to local businesses that are voluntarily cutting back on single-use plastics. Check out Dr. Cho’s YouTube channel here.
What’s great is that you too can create a YouTube channel highlighting people and projects in your area that are making a difference. Got a phone? Go out, find something you want to boost, video it. You could even do this as a project with your kids.
And I will end this post with a nice reading tidbit for you, from one of my favorite writers on mindfulness and spirituality: Finding Nature in Your Neighborhood, by Madisyn Taylor at DailyOm.com.