Why Plant Native Plants?



  1. Native Midwestern plants are sustainable.  They are well-suited to the climate and soil conditions of the area where they are found naturally–they are grown successfully with little effort.  They are adapted to extreme temperatures, blustery winds, and intense sunlight.   They are drought-resistant–once established, after 2-3 years, they need no supplementary water.  The roots of prairie plants grow deep into the earth–some as much as 15’ where water is available.  (The root systems make up 2/3 of the plants’ biomass).  In addition,  the surfaces of the leaves may be hairy, deflecting  sun and wind, or thick and leathery or waxy to minimize transpiration.  They do not need to be dead-headed or divided–they like to grow close together and  they seed themselves about, making them bountiful beyond belief.  They need no fertilizers nor pesticides.  The growing point of prairie plants is just below the surface, making them resistant to fire, unlike exotic species.  An annual controlled burn fertilizes the plants with its ash and keeps woody plants and Eurasian weeds  at bay.  Nothing needs to be brought in, nothing has to be taken out.  If native soil is no longer on the site, native plants wil create native soils.
  2. side yard garden

My side yard gardens in July–mostly Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Showy Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia speciosa var. sullivantii) with Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) and Cup Plant  (Silphium perfoliatum) next to the far end of the house.  The lawn is no more than a path.


2.  Native plants improve the soil and absorb and hold rainwater.  1/3 of  the dense root systems of prairie grasses and sedges  decompose every year, enriching the soil with organic matter and increasing its water-holding capacity.  The decomposed roots open channels for water to infiltrate into the soil and  replenish the shallow aquifer.  This water infiltration and holding capacity prevents runoff, erosion, and flooding.


roots poster                                             poster courtesy of Conservation Land Stewardship


3. Deep-rooted prairie plants have the ability to sink carbon--in the temperate zone where we live, grasslands are more efficient at absorbing carbon than are forests.  CRI’s Writings, Essays and Biological Monographs The Realities of CO2:Seeing through the Smog of Rhetoric and Politics Gerould Wilhelm

schulenberg prairie 2


4.  Native plants support biodiversity by  providing food for native insects, that in turn are eaten by native birds–96% of birds eat insects.  Native landscapes and gardens provide habitat for birds, butterflies, bees, grasshoppers, crickets,and other insects; frogs, toads, and salamanders; and they offer fascinating places for children to play.

black swallowtail

Black Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) next to my house.


bee on stiff GR

Bumblebee on Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida).

5. Native landscapes celebrate the character, history, and identity of a particular community and region.

sears house w BES

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalogue bungalow, the parts of which were manufactured and sold in the Midwest, surrounded by the Midwest quintessential Showy Black-eyed Susan.

west sidewalk

Typical Midwest prairie garden with Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) , Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya), and Showy Black-eyed Susan, ( all within a matrix of Prairie Drop Seed (Sporobolis heterolepis).

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12 Responses to Why Plant Native Plants?

  1. Carolyn Ulrich September 8, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

    Some of the plants on display at Chelsea are English native plants or plants that have naturalized there. In England you see rhododendrons, digitalis and valerian (Centranthus ruber) growing wild in roadside ditches, for example. What’s “unnatural” about Chelsea is that many of the plants on display have been forced into bloom for the 3rd week of May. Imagine 50 different clematis, lilies or roses in full bloom at the same time. I once saw a tabletop display of perhaps 50 different alliums and I asked the presenter how he got them all to bloom at the same time. He replied “By growing 10 times more plants than you think you’ll need.” This was an indoor display under the tent. Then there are the outside gardens that are out of this world.

  2. Jean LeRoy September 8, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    Hi Pat, I love your reflection in the poster taking the picture. It’s very reflective of how passionate you are about natives. Thanks for all the lessons. Jean

    • PatHill September 8, 2015 at 9:34 pm #

      Thanks, Carolyn, for telling us about Chelseait must be gorgeous!

    • PatHill September 8, 2015 at 9:37 pm #

      Jean, I never noticed that before–you’re absolutely right. That is my reflection taking the photo–how clever of me! Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. mary j zaander September 8, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

    Nice essay Pat. Thank you. Beauty is not only visual. A landscape also has auditory, olfactory, and tactile beauty. Most beautiful, though, as you relate is the functional, interrelated, co-evolved beauty of the ecosystem.

    You are a wonderful prairie ecosystem ambassador!

    • Pat Hill September 9, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

      Very eloquent, Mary. Thank you for commenting.

    • Steve Windsor September 9, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

      Wonderfully stated Mary!
      Superbly presented Pat!

  4. Pat September 9, 2015 at 10:09 am #

    So well described! Photos with commentary explain so much — thank you!

  5. Sue Harney September 9, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

    Visiting the Chelsea Flower show is on my bucket list. Living in the Midwest, with our incredible natives, is an ongoing, visual feast. The pleasure of driving by the displays is doubled by knowing that so many other eco-services are happening there. A banquet for every pollinator, bird and insect in the area as well as our eyes.
    Thanks Pat

  6. Suzanne Massion September 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    Shall we count the reasons we should grow native Illinois plants? You’ve covered all of them, Pat, including one that is very quotable. “Native plants will make native soils”. Also, I didn’t know that Black Swallowtails like Joe Pye Weed. This blog might be one of my favorites.

  7. Jason September 10, 2015 at 3:56 pm #

    Well said!

  8. Pat Hill September 11, 2015 at 5:59 am #

    Oops! The Roots Poster is courtesy of Conservation Research Institute.

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