Why not cultivars or exotics plants? Because native plants are host plants for native insects, and more insects means more birds and biodiversity! (Baby songbirds especially need caterpillars and other insects before they start to eat seeds, berries and more diverse forage.
Native trees, shrubs, wildflowers or grasses have a special relationship with a coevolved insect: 90% of plant-eating insects (bees, moths, butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, ants, etc.) depend on a particular family or families of plants to grow and develop into an adult. They develop an enzyme or other ways to digest an otherwise toxic plant. These are their host plants. Just as monarch caterpillars need the bitter and toxic milkweed, the same relationship applies to other insects, e.g., the violet fritillary needs violets, and the spicebush swallowtail needs spicebush. When you plant a Japanese ornamental? Well that evolved with Japanese bugs, rather than our native insects.
Cultivars are bred for features humans want, such as shorter than the native plant, different color blooms, variegated foliage. The human-modified version may not provide the same benefit to co-evolved insects as the native plant. Breeding can alter the plant structure or chemistry, for example, making its leaves toxic, changing its leafing out time to no longer coincide with the life stage of its co-evolved insect, reconfiguring its bloom shape or petals so that they no longer fit its pollinator, or making its blooms sterile. It requires research on each cultivar to determine to what extent it helps native caterpillars and larvae develop into adult insects.
Look for host and nectar plants that provide year-round forage. Birds need to be able to eat from your garden year round – finding seeds, berries and nuts, as well as bugs. Insects are much less picky about nectar plants (compared to host plants). Groupings of the same plant (for example 3-6 or more together) attract more pollinators. Nuts and berries that persist into winter provide high-calorie forage at the time when birds most need it.
Purchase from native nurseries, or ask if your nursery uses neonicotinoids ("neonics"), America's most common insecticide. Natural Habitat Evanston has checked on many mainstream nurseries. Not one could confirm that its cultivars and non-native plants are neonic-free. Read more about neonics on our pesticide page. They are used to kill insects on the plants and in the soil.
One way to prioritize is to look for native plants that host the most caterpillars (larval hosts). Doug Tallamy, entomologist from the University of Delaware has classified native plants according to how many species of caterpillar they host.
Why measure plants in caterpillars? Because caterpillars are a foundation for the food chain. What eats caterpillars? Spiders, beetles, wasps and other insects, but also mammals (like chipmunks and opossum), amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, even fungi.
Plant an oak, cherry, willow, birch, hickory, elm or other top native tree for wildlife. If you are planting flowers, add some native goldenrods or asters. These trees, and wildflowers, help the most species of native caterpillars, and that helps birds too.
Keep an eye out or join our newsletter for info on local plant sales. Spring sales are typically offered by:
Trees are important to conserve because they:
More Info: See The Morton Arboretum Link below on the benefit of trees.
Bur Oak (gnarly shape) (518), native Roses (simple pink blooms) (122), Witchhazel+ (yellow in fall) (62), Serviceberry (119) or Flowering or Pagoda Dogwood+ (115) (white flowers, berries), Red Osier Dogwood (115) (red stems in winter), Sweetgum (bright red fall color) (33), Snowberry+ (small pink blooms followed by big white berries) (24), Redbuds+ (covered in pink in spring) (19), Buttonbush (white puffballs fora wet area) (19) or Tuliptree (straight upright form with blooms like tulips) (19), Spikenard+ (7), Spicebush+ (yellow in spring) (9), Yellowwood (waterfalls of flowers) (?).
Really the maples and other early leafing trees help out pollinators in early spring, but consider Wild Garlic (20), Bluestar, Pussytoes (6), Columbine+ (12), Wild Ginger+, Marsh Marigold+, Spring Beauty+, Shooting Stars (Amethyst, Midland+), Trout Lily+, Geranium+ (23), Strawberry+ (75), Prairie Smoke, Solomon's Seal+ or Plume+, Virginia Bluebells+, Bishop's Cap+, Blue Phlox+, Buttercups, Bloodroot+, Celandine Poppy+, Trillium+, Bellwort+, Violets+ (27), Golden Alexanders.
Goldenrods and asters are keystone natives that need to be in every pollinator garden. Goldenrods (112) (e.g., Elm-leaved+, ZigZag+, Bluestemmed+, Showy, Stiff), Asters (105) (Sky Blue, Smooth Blue, Calico+, Heath+), Ironweed, Mistflower+.
Rabbits may eat nearly anything if hungry. Milkweeds, Beebalm (Monarda), Coneflowers (Echinacea), Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), New England Aster, Goldenrods, Cup and Compass plants, Sunflowers (Helianthus), Ironweed, Tall Bellflower, Ohio Spiderwort, Anise Hyssop, Wild Garlic and Onions, Mints, Foxglove (Beardtongues), Bluestar (Amsonia), Yellow Buckbean, Rattlesnake Master, White Turtlehead, Joe Pye Weed and Sweet Joe Pye Weed, Great Blue Lobelia, Celandine Poppy, Wild Geranium, Jacob’s Ladder, Virginia Bluebells, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Woodland Phlox, Vines: Globe Honeysuckle, Trumpetvine, Moonseed, Virginia Creeper, American Bittersweet, River and Summer Grapevine, Shrubs: Gooseberry, Indian Currant, Spikenard, Indigo Bush, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Elderberry, Spicebush, Buttonbush, Beautyberry, Groundcovers: Wild Strawberry, Pussytoes, Buffalograss and Pennsylvania, Bur, or Ivory sedge. (Maybe all sedges are resistant.)
Improve habitat for birds and pollinators when you Take the Pollinator Pledge.
NHE video presentation for Greener Glenview: why certify as a National WIldlife Federation community habitat
Transitioning from Turf presentation to FLOW (Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed, Columbus, Ohio) lead by Leslie Shad, NHE Lead. DIscusses the issues with turf, why native plants and why leave leaves, the concern about neonicotinoids, and how to navigate outdoor lighting.
Gardening that Matters. Get Started or Enhance your Native Garden. March 2023 presentation to North Shore Senior Center's Tuesday Club. A simple way to take action for climate, community healthand biodiversity: Swap out your lawn for native plants. Reconsidering theculture of lawns. Why it matters, steps to prioritize, how to get started, andhow to amplify the change. Leslie Shad of Natural Habitat Evanston presents.
D65 Process to Request Mulch, Compost and for Debris Pickup
INVASIVE PLANTS OF THE CHICAGO REGION, An identification guide to 32 invasive or native aggressive plants most damaging to local ecosystems. Compiled by Robert Sullivan, Argonne National Laboratory (Retired) and Henrietta Saunders, University of Illinois Master Naturalist. 2022
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - search native plants by state
$25/bag to local residents (pickup; no shipping). We also have some $5 seed packets of bottlebrush and little bluestem grass. While supplies last. Emails should include your phone number and which species you are requesting. Pay by check payable to Citizens’ Greener Evanston at pickup.
Northwestern students Petition for Bird-Friendly Films at Mudd Library. Mudd Library accounts for over 14% of bird deaths and injuries on campus each year. Applying patterned window film to a portion of the building would dramatically reduce collisions that are fatal to birds.