GREENWOOD, Ind. — The carefully planted and planned restored prairie at Old City Park in Greenwood buzzed and hummed with activity.
Bees, flies and butterflies moved from flower to flower, sucking up nutrients. Stalks of goldenrod, prairie clover, swamp milkweed and purple coneflowers provided a buffet of sorts for all kinds of insects. Grasses rustled and waved in the breeze.
The prairie had been cultivated in a specific way, with more than 70 carefully chosen flowering perennials, grasses and trees native to Indiana.
Not only did the plants look attractive to people walking past, but each had a specific role in supporting the ecosystem, from insects to birds to small animals.
“Native plants are especially important because they have evolved to be in our area, as opposed to non-native plants or invasive plants. They have a relationship with our pollinators and our moths and butterflies,” said Blair Beavers, assistant director and education coordinator for the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District. “They’re the baseline of our entire ecosystem.”
That message is making its way to Johnson County homeowners, who are increasingly asking about native Indiana plants to landscape their yards. The plants offer a wealth of advantages — attractive for local wildlife, pleasant to look at and able to withstand the hot, dry summers and thrive.
To help people better understand the benefits, Purdue Extension Johnson County has planned a day-long program talking about these flowers, grasses and shrubs, as well as tours of area examples of landscaping using them. The hope is to help even more people grow the native plant movement.
“People want to attract pollinators, they want to attract wildlife. People want to get rid of the invasive plants and return to the native plants,” said Sarah Hanson, director for Purdue Extension Johnson County. “I’ve seen so much interest in that lately.”
In recent years, research into native plants has underscored the importance of using them in gardens and yards. Declining wildlife and plant populations threaten ecosystems that have thrived for centuries. Cultivating these kinds of plants provides food, shelter and other advantages to the natural world.
Native plant communities support much greater biodiversity than introduced or non-native plants, and biodiversity is vital for a stable ecosystem, according to the Indiana Native Plant Society. A 2018 study published in the journal Biological Invasions found that there were 68% fewer caterpillar species and 91% fewer caterpillars in study areas with non-native plants compared to native hedgerows.
“When you insects that only eat certain kinds of things, they can’s survive unless they have the right plants. If invasive plants crowd those good native plants out, it makes it even harder for the insects,” Hanson said. “Then it’s a chain — the birds that eat those insects or eat native plants struggle, animals that eat those insects don’t have enough food.”
Native plants helps build habitats for countless species, and landscaping that includes them allows stormwater to percolate safely into the soil rather than running superheated into rivers and streams.
Because native plants are already suited for Indiana’s unique landscape and climate, they require less watering and no fertilizer, making gardening easier.
“Indigenous plants are a significant part of a region’s geographic context — in fact, they help define it. They have proven themselves capable of surviving in a landscape for millennia,” said Michael Homoya, state botanist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
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