A climate action evanston program

Add Keystone Native Tree or Plants

Which plants do the most for biodiversity?

More about this key action Item

most recent version posted on:
March 15, 2023

Why Native Plants?

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 or “Nativars”

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.

Also Plant for Nectar, and Year-Round Seeds, Berries, Nuts

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.

Watch out for Neonics!

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.

Pawpaw is a native fruit.

Which Native Plants to Prioritize for your Garden? What are Keystone Natives?

Keystones host the most caterpillars

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.

Think of birds as well, choosing the larval hosts that also provide berries, nuts and seeds year-round.

Keystone natives from Tallamy's List of Woody and Herbaceous Plants

Top woody natives, Doug Tallamy
Top herbaceous natives, Doug Tallamy

Neonic-free native nurseries:


  • City Grange, citygrange.com,  5500 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625. 312.883.9721 
  • Natural Communities NaturalCommunities.net  331-248-1016
  • Possibility Place, 7548 W.  Monee-Manhattan Road, Monee, Illinois 60449 (also online)  possibilityplace.com 708-534-3988
  • Rebeccas  Natives, Ltd. 329  Chestnut St Winnetka, IL rebeccasnatives.com  
  • Shady Grove Wildflower Farm, At the Evanston Farmer’s Market: Allison Sloan <allisonlynnsloan@gmail.com


  • Agrecol https://www.agrecol.com
  • Coldstreamfarm.net (bareroot  trees)
  • izelplants.com
  • Prairiemoon.com (good search  function)
  • Prairienursery.com
  • Roundstone Seed roundstoneseed.com
  • TaylorCreeknurseries.com
  • Toadshade.com


  • Pizzogroup.com (wholesale), 10729  Pine Road, Leland IL, 60531. (815) 495-2300. info@pizzogroup.com
  • Red Buffalo Nursery  -   Richmond, IL  -   815-678-4848 redbuffalonursery.com
  • Walnut  Creek Nursery, 35910  Polk Road,
     Marengo, IL 60152 312.925.7467. wcnursery.com

The Benefits of Trees

Trees are important to conserve because they:

  • Cool urban heat islands.  A big shade tree can lower its surrounding temperature by 10-15 degrees.
  • Clean our air and water, creating oxygen and capturing pollutants. Children are less likely to have asthma if they live in leafy neighborhoods.
  • Play an important role in combating climate change. Urban forests remove enough carbon to offset 10 million cars’ emissions per year.
  • Reduce flooding, filter and absorb stormwater. Water evaporates more slowly through leaves and cools our neighborhood.
  • Save us money: Shading homes and blocking winter winds. They increase home values.
  • Are good for business. Shoppers travel farther for tree-lined streets, linger, and spend more.
  • Lower stress, help us relax and quiet streets. Seeing trees reduces blood pressure, helps hospital patients recover, increases worker productivity. People drive more slowly.
  • Make cities safer. People spend more time outside. There are fewer property and violent crimes, and less aggressive behavior.
  • Take many years to develop. Loss of a mature tree can mean a gap of decades before regaining the benefits from a new planting.

More Info: See The Morton Arboretum Link below on the benefit of trees.

Some Ideas

What's in a Native Food Forest?

  • Trees: Cherry (Prunus serotina), Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), Pawpaw* (Asimina triloba), Pecan* (Carya illinoinensis),  Persimmon* (Diospyros virginia), American plum (Prunus Americana), Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis, canadensis or arborea), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra).
  • Shrubs: Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis), Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Currants and Gooseberries (Ribes missouriense. Ribes americanum, others), Elderberry* (Sambucus canadensis), Grape (Vitis riparia (riverbank grape) or aestivalis (summer grape)), Hazelnut* (Corylus americana), New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis (black raspberry) or Rubus odoratus (purple flowering raspberry)).
  • Wildflowers: Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Garlic (Allium canadense), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus), Leek/Wild Ramp (Allium tricoccum), native Mints (Pycnanthemum pilosum or virginianum), Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana).

* signifies plant more than one.

Planting for Birds:

  • Fruit trees: Eastern Red Cedar, Black Cherry, Sand Cherry, Chokecherry, Iowa Crabapple, Dogwoods (Pagoda, Flowering, Red Osier, Gray), Hackberry, Hawthorn, American Plum, Serviceberry, Red Mulberry.
  • Fruit shrubs: Elderberry, Viburnums (Blackhaw, Mapleleaf, Arrowwood, Nannyberry, American Cranberrybush), Spicebush, Black Chokeberry, Wild Currant, Gooseberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Smooth Sumac, Staghorn Sumac, Ninebark, Wahoo. Wild strawberry ground cover.
  • Nut and seed trees and shrubs: Oaks (White, Bur, Pin, Swamp White,Black, Red, Hill’s, Chinkapin, Scarlet), Maples, Birch (River, Paper, Yellow), Elm, Linden, Sycamore, American Hazelnut, Beech, Hornbeam, Hop-Hornbeam, Witch Hazel.
  • Grasses:
  • (1’+): Prairie dropseed, Little bluestem, Big bluestem, Indian grass, Switchgrass.
  • (short turf-like) buffalo grass (sun), Pennsylvania or Ivory sedge (shade-sun)

Planting natives is one of the six items in the Pollinator Pledge

Improve habitat for birds and pollinators when you Take the Pollinator Pledge.


Our Eco-Friendly Yard and Garden Landscaping flyer

Our short guide to get your garden buzzing with life — attracting butterflies, bees, fireflies and birds.

Access pdf file of flyerAccess pdf file of flyer

Take our Pollinator Pledge

[needs description]

Take the Pollinator PledgeTake the Pollinator Pledge

Gardening that Matters PPT

NHE presentation to North Shore Senior Center tuesday club. Variations used for other groups. March 2023

Check out the PowerPointCheck out the PowerPoint

Petition for a Private Tree Ordinance, April 2023

Petition delivered to Mayor Biss, Council members, City Manager Stowe, Clerk Mendoza, Ms. Pollock and Ms. LeBlanc Fisher, April 2023. From Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Climate Action Evanston (formerly Citizens’ Greener Evanston)

Read the PetitionRead the Petition

Our Pollinator Pledge yard signs

Pollinator Pledge yard signs

Donate for a Pollinator Pledge signDonate for a Pollinator Pledge sign

Gardening that Matters video presentation

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.

See videoSee video

Transitioning from Turf PPT

Presentation on Transitioning from Turf (Powerpoint), January 2023. Touches on the issues with turf, why native plants, why leave leaves, concerns about neonicotinoids and outdoor lighting.

Transitioning From Turf PowerpointTransitioning From Turf Powerpoint

Transitioning from Turf presentation to FLOW

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.

Transitioning from Turf Video PresentationTransitioning from Turf Video Presentation

Evanston Host Plant Initiative for the Rusty Patched Bumblebee

Evanston Host Plant Initiative for the Rusty Patched Bumblebee

Evanston Host Plant InitiativeEvanston Host Plant Initiative

Our Natural Habitat Newsletter Signup

Sign up for the NHE Newsletter

NHE Newsletter SignupNHE Newsletter Signup

NHE - why certify as a National WIldlife Federation community habitat

NHE video presentation for Greener Glenview: why certify as a National WIldlife Federation community habitat

NHE video presentation for Greener Glenview: why NWFNHE video presentation for Greener Glenview: why NWF

List of Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee Host Plants

Fish and Wildlife Service list of host plants for the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee

RPBB Host PlantsRPBB Host Plants

Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee general information

Fish and Wildlife Service information page on the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee

Access information pageAccess information page

US Fish and Wildlife Service Fact Sheet on the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

US Fish and Wildlife Service Fact Sheet on the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

Access fact sheetAccess fact sheet

D65 Process for New Trees at Schools

District 65 Process for New Trees and Native Plants at Schools

D65 Process for Trees at SchoolsD65 Process for Trees at Schools

NWF Native Plants Finder: Search your zip code for plants ranked by Tallamy

Website database: search your zip code for plants ranked by Tallamy

Check out your zip code Check out your zip code

No Mow May factsheet from Midwest Grows Green

No Mow May factsheet from Midwest Grows Green

See factsheetSee factsheet

Audubon Plants for Birds Database by zip code

Audubon Plants for Birds Database

Audubon Plants for Birds DatabaseAudubon Plants for Birds Database

The Morton Arboretum: Benefits of Trees

From Saving you Money to the Air you Breathe: Tree Benefits

The Morton Arboretum Tree BenefitsThe Morton Arboretum Tree Benefits

Chicago Audubon Society Plants for Birds

Chicago Audubon Society Plants for Birds

Chicago Audubon Society Plants for BirdsChicago Audubon Society Plants for Birds

Chicago Region Invasives

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

See the FlyerSee the Flyer

NWF WIldlife Certification

Certify your habitat with NWF

Certify with NWFCertify with NWF

Wildlife Values from Doug Tallamy, Univ of Delaware

Plants measured as host plants for US caterpillar species from Doug Tallamy, Univ of Delaware

Wildlife Values from Doug TallamyWildlife Values from Doug Tallamy

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - search native plants by state

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - search native plants by state

Lady Bird Johnson WIldflower Search State DatabaseLady Bird Johnson WIldflower Search State Database

You're Needed! Here Are Some Involvement Opportunities

Donating to Climate Action Evanston and earmarking your donation for Natural Habitat Evanston. You can further earmark your donation to one of our initiatives.

Take the Pollinator and Bird Pledge

take the pledgetake the pledge

Join our Pollinator Pledge and let the city and landscapers know we care about sustainable yards. Take an optional yard sign to spread the word.

Join the Natural Habitat Evanston Newsletter


Stay updated on green goings on in Evanston, workdays, advocacy issues and more.

Buffalo Grass Anyone?

Buffalo GrassBuffalo Grass

$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.

Volunteer at plantings and invasive removals: parks and schools

Outdoor workdaysOutdoor workdays

Help at outdoor workdays

Join No Mow May

No Mow MayNo Mow May

Rethink how you Lawn

Sign on: Northwestern students Petition for Bird-Friendly Films at Mudd Library

Sign onSign on

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.

More Ways to Volunteer: Spread the word

Email usEmail us

Share out brochures, doorhangers, or flyers. Collect a bunch of materials on the 5th Ward Tree Giveaway, Pollinator Pledge, Eco landscaping, Yard care, Light pollution, Leaf blowers are an eco-disaster, or Buffalo Grass.

Join our Facebook Group

NHE FB GroupNHE FB Group

Get updates and share your thoughts on our FB Group. You can also check out our FB page here https://www.facebook.com/NaturalHabitatEvanston

More yard signs: Mowing, Leaves, Leafblowers?

2-Sided Yard Sign2-Sided Yard Sign

Just want to spread the word on certain steps? Mow Less-Leave Leaves (2-sided yard sign) or Leafblowers sign

Join the Isabella Woods Newsletter

Isabella Woods NewsletterIsabella Woods Newsletter

Get news the next time there is a threat to Isabella Woods. (Only sent when there is news.)

Certify with National Wildlife Federation

Certify now with NWFCertify now with NWF

Provide Food, Water, Shelter, Places to Raise Young and Sustainable Steps for wildlife. It helps Evanston maintain its NWF Community-wide Wildlife Habitat certification.