CARTERVILLE, Ill.— Horticulture Extension Educator Austin Little and Energy & Environmental Stewardship Extension Educator Erin Medvecz recently collaborated to provide a free program to local residents on native plants.

Little started off the program by sharing information on sustainable landscaping with native plants. He discussed the advantages of using native plants as an alternative to commonplace plants used in urban landscape.  

Native plants occur naturally in a particular region and exist without human intervention. Many commonplace plants in residential lawns and gardens are low maintenance but offer little ecological services. In addition to their beauty and increased scenic value, native plants provide food and a reproductive habitat for wildlife while promoting biodiversity and stewardship for our environmental heritage.

Most landscape plants need seven hours of sun for optimal growth condition. However, many natives are shade tolerant.  Native plants are associated with native soil microbes. Soil microbial diversity is linked to improved ecosystem functions including stronger root systems and more resilient plants that require less pesticides.

Little discussed the diverse collection of native plants to choose from and encouraged participates to keep size considerations and blooming times in mind when selecting a native plant landscape. He encouraged participants to look to natural areas for inspiration and use plants that fit the conditions of their site. He stated members should “start out small and experiment to see what works best for your landscape needs.”

During her portion of the program, Medvecz discussed planting for pollinators. While bees and butterflies are the most common pollinators, there are other lesser known groups including birds, moths, flies, beetles, and bats. Each pollinator looks for specific traits within the plant species they pollinate including color, nectar guides, odor, nectar, pollen and flower shape.

Native plants support ecosystem function. Plants that we use for landscaping can make or break a food web. Native pollinators prefer native plants and 90% of plant-eating insects only eat plants in which they coevolved. Native plants can support the full life cycle. For example, host plants can provide food and/or habitat for caterpillars while the nectar provides food for the adult species of butterflies or moths. She shared examples of native host plants that can be incorporated into landscape to attract specific species and act as nectar sources. 

Medvecz also shared some citizen science programs including I-Pollinate, Monarch Watch, Bee Spotter and Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network.  U of I has also started a native garden map where individuals can register their native plant garden at http://go.illinois.edu/GardenMap. The National Wildlife Federation has a native plant finder website which suggests which native plants to grow to support pollinators based on your zip code. To learn more, visit nwf.org/NativePlantFinder.

Following the program, Terry Foster and Rick Whitecotton led a tour of the John A. Logan Historical Village Gardens where participants viewed many native plants incorporated into the 1800s settler’s demonstration gardens.

University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in programming, contact your local registration office. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time for meeting your needs.

News Sources:

Austin Little, 618-687-1727, little84@illinois.edu

Erin Medvecz, 618-883-6363, emedvecz@illinois.edu

News writer: Heather Willis, 618-357-2126, hdwillis@illinois.edu