Plant lists, list of native plant nurseries and sales available on DNR website
MADISON — With monarchs and many other butterflies and bees in decline, homeowners can do their part to help conserve these and other wildlife they love by adding native plants to their backyards or balconies. Even adding a few native plant species, or a single “wildlife workhorse,” can help feed and shelter wildlife.
“Native plants are the best choice for backyard habitat,” says Amy Staffen, a DNR conservation biologist with an expertise in native plants. “They are hardy, low maintenance, and there are native plants to suit every purpose, whether it’s for formal landscaping or providing habitat.”
Adding native plants can help for reasons including:
- Native plants are food for insects, which in turn are the base of the food web. Insects are eaten by birds, bees, bats, butterflies, small mammals, fish and other wildlife.
- Up to 90 percent of the world’s plant-eating insects are dietary specialists that can feed only on a small selection of plant species. For instance, monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed while endangered Karner blue butterfly caterpillars eat only native lupine.
- Native plants have evolved along with the insects that eat them; they are able to detoxify and digest native plants. Most insects lack the enzymes necessary to eat nonnative plants, like the ornamental trees and other plants so common in landscaping, but relative newcomers to Wisconsin.
Native plants also are ideal shelters for native animals to breed and to hide from predators and weather, and they also can help keep Wisconsin lakes and rivers and drinking water clean, Staffen says. Their deep and complex root systems filter pollutants from runoff and slow it down.
Read Amy Staffen’s story of turning her urban lawn into a native plant garden and rain garden, and her “Four ways to incorporate native plants into your home landscape” in the DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program landowner newsletter [PDF].
Add one or two “wildlife workhorse” species, or more to bloom across the seasons
Homeowners wanting to start small can add a single “wildlife workhorse” species like American hazelnut (Corylus americana) or wild bergamont (Monarda fistulosa) to their backyard and help a variety of wildlife, Staffen says. Both of these attractive plants grow statewide in a wide variety of conditions from sun to shade.
Homeowners interested in diving a little deeper can plant specifically for monarchs, pollinators, birds and other wildlife. A variety of lists provide a selection of plants that bloom from spring to fall so homeowners can help wildlife across the seasons while having a colorful garden.
“Be sure to plant species native to Wisconsin and to your specific area,” Staffen says. For the best chance of success with the plants, buy native plants sourced from within 50 miles north or south and from within 100 miles east or west of your property.
Native plant nurseries and native plant sales part of growing options for buying native plants
Options for buying native plants in 2019 include the growing number of Wisconsin native plant nurseries [PDF] and native plant sales [PDF] put on by conservation organizations and nature centers. These are the native plant sales DNR is aware of that are sponsored by nature centers and conservation organizations.