University of Illinois Extension

Landscape Value Multiplied by Native Plants

Curb appeal makes a difference whether you are planning to sell, or stay in your home for the long haul. According to researchers at Texas A&M, landscaping brings an average of 109 percent return on every dollar spent, said Nancy Pollard, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“It is better than other home improvements,” said Pollard. “Choosing native plants for your landscape can improve the ecological value of your home too.

“Whether you are landscaping your first house, sprucing up your front yard, or replacing a few overgrown plants, we’ve been hearing about how using native plants can save on water bills once they are established. Another BIG reason to use natives is that native plants provide critical food for bird, butterfly and other wildlife populations.”

It is not just the berries our wildlife eats. Native plants support a huge network of life by providing food for caterpillars. Admittedly, this insect stage has gotten a bad rap. We certainly don’t want them in our cabbages, but what about our other ornamental plants? Your native oak, black cherry, or birch are the critical grocery stores that mother and father birds depend on to feed their nestlings and fledglings.

“Native plants are the primary food source for literally thousands of species of moths and butterflies, particularly their caterpillar stage,” she explained. “Few native plants mean little food for the caterpillars of these native insects. So no matter how hard a pair of birds tries, they can’t find enough caterpillars to feed their young. The baby birds don’t survive.”

Look around your landscape. If nothing has holes in it, nothing is able to eat there. A blemish-free landscape is effectively a food desert for wildlife! Non-natives typically will support very few native insects, if any. That is why they gained popularity in the last century of landscaping. It seemed like a good idea to have insect free foliage. But it does not provide nourishment for our wildlife food chain.

“What native trees support the most butterfly and moth species? Oaks top the list,” said Pollard. “They support a whopping 534 species of moths and butterflies. Native birds eat the caterpillars that eat the oaks – all without doing any significant harm to the trees. So plant an oak this spring.

“When upgrading your landscape, you can make a BIG difference to the sustainability of wildlife populations by choosing native plants. Black cherries are a close second supporting 456 species of butterflies and moths. Willow at 455, birch at 413 and poplar at 368 round out the top five on the native tree list, according to Doug Tallamy, entomologist and wildlife ecologist at the University of Delaware and author of Bring Nature Home.”

Are you willing to live with a few holes in the foliage to feed backyard populations of insects and birds?

“Your garden of native plants can be beautiful, provide a good return on your investment, and play a critical role in feeding native wildlife,” Pollard said.