Giving Biodiversity a Chance:
Biodiverse ecosystems are healthy ecosystems. Bringing back lost native plant communities helps to improve biodiversity, and helps to re-establish lost evolutionary connections with other organisms.
Everyone loves butterflies and hummingbirds, but what about our other pollinators? The bees, wasps, flies and other insects that plants (both agricultural and environmental) depend upon for pollination. Many plant species depend on specific insects for pollination, and many insects depend on specific plants to complete their lifecycles. Planting native helps to improve opportunities for these species, which we desperately depend upon, to thrive.
Bringing Wildlife to You:
Planting native helps re-establish biodiversity, so we don’t need to stop at the plants and the insects. By bringing back native plant communities, and rebuilding our ecosystem foundations, the resources are there for a diversity of wildlife to return. As insects return, so too do the birds that depend upon them to feed their young. Birdfeeders sit in yards across America, surrounded by non-native plants: we could be helping these species so much more simply by using plants that are more local. And it doesn’t end with birds: everything from small mammals, to amphibians and reptiles can benefit from the simple act of re-establishing native plant assemblages.
Every year, more water is used to maintain the human landscape than is used in the entire agricultural sector. Native plants evolved here – they belong here – and do not require the same intensive levels of care as traditional landscaping plants, so long as they are planted in appropriate locations. They also look great – think of it as replacing a vast green carpet with a rolling field of brilliantly colored wildflowers, while slashing your water bill and giving your sprinkler system a break.
The evolutionary strategy of native grasses (and many other perennial species) is to invest in a “bottom-up” approach. In the presence of intense grazing and frequent disturbance, the goal is to grow deep roots, store energy below ground, and prepare to grow back after disturbance. These deep roots form an underground network that helps keep soil in place, preventing erosion and loss of soil nutrients. On the flip side, the turfgrasses typically used in lawns, which is often mowed more frequently than it can keep up with, cannot invest the same energy into deep root systems.
On the subject of deep roots and energy storage, it is important to talk about how different plants store energy. Often in the discussion of climate mitigation strategies the use of tree plantings is brought up. But how do trees store carbon? In their trunks, branches, and leaves. So, what’s the issue? Having all of that carbon storage above ground makes it very vulnerable to escape: if the tree is cut down or dies, all of that above ground carbon will be released back into the environment, negating any carbon-related benefits. That’s not to say planting trees is bad, but rather that there are other methods to store carbon. Enter native grasses and forbs, with their deep, extensive root systems. All of the energy is protected underground, so even if some hungry deer come around, or a lawnmower rumbles through, that carbon remains protected underground.
Nature has been known to improve our health for quite some time, primarily through stress reduction. Although it may not be the same as a trek through the backcountry, bringing nature into your backyard – the sights, smells, and sounds – can have a marked improvement on mental and physical wellbeing.