Native Plants

Native plantings include trees, grasses, flowers, and other plants that have adapted and evolved to local conditions over hundreds of years. They have adapted to the climate, geography and hydrology and should not require pesticides, fertilizers and watering.

Native plants are ideal for “low-maintenance” gardening and landscaping as most species are hardy enough to survive winter cold and summer heat. Once established, they can flourish without irrigation or fertilization, and are resistant to most pests and diseases.  In addition, native plants provide habitat for native species of butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. They also provide variety in gardens by offering alternatives to the most common species, cultivars, and invasive species.

Municipalities in the Greater Lafayette area have recognized the benefits of native plantings.  Take a look around at local municipal projects and you’ll see native plantings along sidewalks, roadsides, and within roundabouts.   As a result of our efforts and those of our partners, the establishment of native plantings have created a beautiful, low maintenance, more sustainable landscape in Tippecanoe County.

For more information on native trees, shrubs, flowers and prairies, please click on the appropriate topic within this paragraph, or continue to scroll down.

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Native Trees

“To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, and to live as a people, we must have trees.” – Theodore Roosevelt

It is difficult to quantify all of the ways that trees benefit people. They offer us things like lumber to build our homes, maple syrup, fruit, and a shady spot to hang a hammock. Listed below are some of the benefits of trees.

Oxygen:  Trees use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into sugars, releasing oxygen in the process.  Since high levels of carbon dioxide in the air have been associated with climate change, trees can lessen the amount of it in the air and store the carbon.

Food: Trees provide us with a variety of fruits and nuts. Maple syrup is made from the sap of trees.

Wood derived products: Many of use products derived from trees every day. There are many products made of wood, but sawdust can also be broken down into wood pulp which can be used to make things like asphalt, chewing gum, and cellophane.

Habitat: Trees are important components of ecosystems worldwide, providing food and shelter for a variety of plant and animal life.

Stormwater: Leaves can slow down rainfall, so it isn’t as erosive once it reaches the ground. Tree roots also hold soil in place and absorb large amounts of water.

Aesthetics: Whether in a forest setting or an urban environment, trees add beauty to the landscape.

Economic: Trees can provide shade and act as a windbreak, saving homeowners energy costs. Properties with mature trees have higher property values. Indiana’s Dept. of Natural Resources Forestry Division states that Indiana’s forest and hardwood industry has a total economic impact of $17 billion.

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Above Left -Forests like this one are vital to the survival of many native wildlife species, and provide recreation and timber for humans.

Above Right – Dead trees provide wildlife habitat. This standing dead tree, or snag, could be used by animals like woodpeckers, squirrels, or bats.

Above Center – There are many options available when choosing a native tree for your property. Consider if you’d like an evergreen (conifer) or a tree that loses its leaves annually (deciduous). When deciding where to plant, keep in mind the mature height of the tree, soil type and proximity to buildings or power lines. Decide what you would like from your tree.  Do you want fall colors, or flowers in spring? Would you like to use your trees for shade, as a windbreak, or to attract wildlife? With around 100 species of tree native to Indiana, you have plenty of great options to choose from.

For more information on Native Trees:

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Native Shrubs

When most people think of native plants they picture wildflowers, but planting native shrubs is also a great option. Native shrubs can used in place of traditional ornamentals in a manicured lawn setting, or used to create large scrubby natural areas on larger properties. Like all native plants, these shrubs are adapted to our local environment and are therefore hardy and low-maintenance. Like exotic shrubbery, native plants offer different characteristics to choose from. One beautiful option is the Common Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) which produces white flowers and reddish-purple berries. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has delicate yellow flowers in the spring, followed by red berries, and foliage turns yellow in the fall. Spicebush also has a pleasant, spicy fragrance, making it another excellent choice. Wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) has large white flowers, similar-looking to cultivated hydrangea varieties.

Wildlife benefit from native shrubs in a variety of ways, for example shrubs can be utilized to create a softened “edge” habitat. Edge refers to the area where two different types of landscape meet- such as a crop field and a woodlot. Wildlife prefer a gradual transition from one habitat to the other and shrubs are a great way to blend these areas together. Many native shrubs are adapted to woodlands, and are therefore shade tolerant. Shrubs can be used for cover or nesting. Wildlife will also feed on berries produced by shrubs like dogwoods, sumacs or serviceberry.

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Above Left – Songbirds like robins, cardinals, cedar waxwings, will feed on berries from native shrubs, like this dogwood.

Above Right – Although many exotic (not found in North American prior to European settlement) plants are well-behaved, some species like Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) are considered invasive. Invasive species damage native ecosystems by spreading rapidly and competing with native plants for resources. Invasive species should be removed from your property.

For more information on Native Shrubs:

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Native Wildflowers

Most of the natural areas of Indiana have been converted to other uses, like agriculture, roads, houses and businesses. The plant communities in these areas have changed drastically and the diversity of plant species has diminished. Some of this biodiversity can be restored by establishing native plants on your property. Native wildflowers can be added into formal landscaping, or used in naturalized settings like woods or prairies. There are a many native wildflowers to choose from, ranging in many different shapes, sizes and colors. These plants all prefer particular soil conditions and have varying light requirements. There are different sources of native wildflowers available, and they can be purchased as seed or plants. When purchasing seeds, be aware that some packages labeled “wildflower”mixes do not contain native wildflowers. Be sure to check the list of species carefully before purchasing. Although native plants are becoming more common at nurseries and garden centers, some species may still be difficult to find. Native plants can be purchased at the Tippecanoe County SWCD plant sale each spring.

Woodland flowers

These species are adapted to forest habitats. Many of this plants flower in the spring before the trees leaf out, and become dormant later in the season. Examples of these wildflowers include Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Dutchmen’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), and trillium species (Trillium spp). These plants do well in shade, and can be utilized alongside traditional spring bulbs like tulips or daffodils. Another shade-tolerant native is the Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis) which has elegant red flowers which bloom throughout the spring and summer.

Wetland flowers

These plants are adapted to wet soils. Some of these species must have wet soils, while others are more adaptable.  Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) likes wetland conditions, but can also do well in flowerbeds. Pollinators feed on the pink flowers throughout the summer, and it is a host plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) is named for the small “cups” that collect water between the leaf stalk and the stem. It reaches upwards of eight feet tall with sunflower-like blossoms.

Prairie flowers

These species tend to be drought-tolerant and thrive in full sun. Blazing star (Liatris spp.) has a stalk covered in tiny purple flowers, which are a favorite of pollinators. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a popular native flower, due to its showy flowers, hardiness, and attractiveness to pollinators. Black eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is another common native, which also benefits birds and butterflies.

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Above Left – Dutchmen’s Breeches is named for its unique flowers, which resemble pantaloons. This woodland plant flowers in the spring and has delicate fern-like foliage.

Above Center – Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica) grows in wet or moist soils. It flowers in late summer.

Above Right – Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native prairie flower that is often incorporated into landscaping. This hardy plant blooms in late summer, and is popular with butterflies.

Pollinators rely on native plants for their survival. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are specially adapted to feed on native flowers. Some of these animals are generalists, and will utilize many different types of plants, but others depend solely on a particular native plant to survive. For instance, Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) may feed on many flowers, but rely on milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.) to feed their caterpillars. Honeybee populations have been in decline in recent years, and providing bees with additional food sources can help.

For more information on Native Wildflowers:pollinators

 

 

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