In case you missed it, Oct. 21-27 was “Native Plants Week” in North Carolina.
For the third year, Gov. Roy Cooper made this designation to bring attention to the importance of native plants in a variety of ways. Cooper did this in partnership with Audubon North Carolina.
With the state’s diverse landscapes, it’s not surprising that North Carolina is home to more than 3,900 native plant species. They’re vital aspects of our natural heritage, economy and the well-being of the state’s different ecosystems.
Despite increased urbanization of North Carolina, there remains a deep human connection to the land and our native plants.
Native plants provide food and shelter for birds and other native wildlife. They also provide important nesting materials.
They host native insects that are important food for wildlife, especially birds.
Native insects typically can’t adapt to eating non-native plants, so a reduction in native plants lowers populations of the certain insect species that depend on them. The native birds that feed on these native insects likewise suffer.
Everything native in nature is connected.
North Carolina’s native plants and their derivatives have been important to the state’s economy since the days of early settlement, ranging from tar from pine trees in the eastern counties to ginseng in the mountains.
Herbal Ingenuity in Wilkesboro is one of many companies that buy and sell native plants for use in various medicines and other products. Hemlock and Fraser fir trees, both important to the economy of northwest North Carolina, are examples of native plants now grown commercially.
Unfortunately, North Carolina’s native flora and fauna are under attack.
Climate change is causing non-native plants to increasingly out-compete native plants, especially where the land is disturbed by human activities. This doesn’t bode well for native birds and other wildlife.
Homeowners and others who make landscaping decisions can have a real impact on this by choosing native plants, especially species that are good sources of food for native birds and other wildlife.
Another factor to consider is the tendency of some non-native plants to spread from where they’re planted in yards. For example, uncontrolled English ivy can create as much of a monoculture as kudzu - if not as rapidly.
Check with the Wilkes Cooperative Extension Service for advice on which native plants to plant for particular situations. Among native trees, you might want to consider species that are beneficial to birds and other wildlife but also have pretty fall foliage.
There also are good sources online, such as N.C. State Extension’s “Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants” at https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/landscaping-for-wildlife-with-native-plants and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s “Landscaping with Native Plants” at https://www.ncwildlife.org/WISe/Landscaping-with-Native-Plants.
The website for the North Carolina Native Plant Society is another good source. It’s at https://www.ncwildflower.org/native_plants/why_natives.
Fall planting works best for most native plant species.