The importance of landscaping with native plants will be emphasized at the Illinois Indigenous Plant Symposium April 1 at John A. Logan College in Carterville. The symposium is being hosted by the Illinois Native Plant Society and sponsored by the Southern Illinois University department of plant biology.
Using native plants can have wide-reaching effects.
“I think at the heart of the idea is that humans have dominated the entire landscape, and everywhere we’ve lived we’re not very good at letting whatever lived there originally remain,” said Chris Benda, president of the southern chapter of the Illinois Native Plant Society. “Our native animals need native plants to survive. We’ve reduced the places we allow them to thrive.”
Benda noted that some animals like white-tailed deer, cardinals and robins are able to thrive almost anywhere, but we are losing biodiversity because we aren’t maintaining an environment many species need to survive.
“The wildlife native to our region have co-evolved with our native plant species,” Benda said.
He noted the Monarch butterfly depends on milkweed. The Monarch is not only dependent on milkweed for food, but it also absorbs toxins from the plant, making it less attractive to predators. The Karner blue butterfly is dependent on the wild lupine.
“Exotic ornamentals, sometimes they aren’t necessarily from another continent, but they have been bred in a particular way to change characteristics,” Benda said. “The heart of the idea is insects.
“This is a tricky explanation because most people would say, ‘I don’t want bugs.’ People like birds and people like butterflies. Those two particular groups of animals require specific plants to survive. Baby birds can only live on insects and invertebrates. Basically, a mama bird — to raise a brood of chicks — must capture thousands of insects a day.”
To aid native wildlife, Benda suggested planting oak and black cherry trees. Oak trees support dozens of species of caterpillars.
Some people opt to use exotics for landscaping because they believe they are more colorful or showy. Benda disputes the notion.
“A lot of people don’t realize that we have not only a tremendous diversity of plants in Illinois, but a variety of very showy ones,” he said. “We have a lot of beautiful shrubs that people aren’t aware of, buckeye, vibernum, red bud and dogwood. What I really like too is the serviceberry.”
Another issue with non-native plants is they can overwhelm the environment.
“A lot of things that people plant, they want them to be beautiful, and that means lots of flowers,” Benda said. “And, lots of flowers mean lots of seeds. A lot of times they are eaten by birds and get moved everywhere. The fire shrub is a perfect example and honeysuckle is probably a better example. It is everywhere.”
A native plant sale, to benefit the Illinois Native Plant Society, will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 1. Benda said plants such as shooting star, blue bells, coneflower and blazing star will be on sale.
Plants will be available to everyone. Registration at the symposium is not required.