By Rylee Osterberg, Education Intern
Wisconsin is known for its lush forests and rolling pastures. But did you know that some of the most ecologically sustainable plants in Wisconsin are the ones found on the forest floor and on the side of the road?
Native woodland plants are already adapted to the local climate because they exist without human introduction. These plants protect soil from erosion, consume less water and are a valuable asset to local wildlife. Native plants provide food and habitats for different pollinators, which makes them essential to local ecosystems. Unlike non-native plants, native plants introduced to landscapes are less likely to be invasive, are less susceptible to disease and provide the genetic diversity necessary for thriving gardens.
According to research done by National Geographic, Monarch butterfly numbers have dropped by almost 15% within the last year, and 80% in the last 20 years due to climate change and habitat loss. Pollinators and native plants are both disappearing at an alarming rate due to urban development, the introduction of invasive species and use of harmful pesticides.
One way you can help pollinators like Monarchs rebuild their habitats is by planting natives in your yard whenever and wherever you can. Listed below are some Wisconsin-native blooms to consider planting in your garden this spring!
Butterfly Weed/Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterfly weed is considered a “must” if you are looking to attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden. It’s a primary host plant for Monarch butterflies as the caterpillars eat nothing but milkweed. Butterfly weed can be sown directly into your garden in the fall, and it will sprout in the spring.
Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
Trillium is most commonly found in the woods and is characterized by having 3 petals on each flower, 3 leaves and 3 sepals. Some species of trillium are protected or endangered, therefore cannot be taken from the wild. Fortunately, trillium is finding its way back into more catalogs and nurseries and is the perfect native addition to a shady garden for good ground coverage.
Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Phlox is a colorful native addition to any yard or garden. They are hardy and long-lived, fragrant and attract all sorts of pollinators and other beneficial insects. Phlox is a very versatile plant as it can grow in any amount of light, and provide necessary height and shade in any landscape.
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Mayapple is an easy-to-grow, native perennial commonly found in forests and woods. Its large leaves and interesting flower make it a great choice for shady woodland gardens.
Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Another wonderful addition to any shade garden is the Wild columbine. Wild columbine is a Wisconsin native with sweet red flowers perfect for attracting pollinators.
Dandelions have a poor reputation because they can take over yards and are commonly thought of as a nuisance. However, they are often the first meal for pollinators in the spring, and are actually good for your yard! Their wide-spreading roots help aerate the earth, reduce erosion and can actually help to fertilize the grass.
Native plants are the perfect way to incorporate local nature into your own backyard. Not only do native plants look beautiful in a garden, they provide food and habitats for pollinators that help our gardens to grow and thrive. They also conserve water, cut down on mowing and pesticide costs, and protect our soil. If you’re thinking about planting a garden this spring, consider fitting in one or two of these helpful local plants!
This summer is all about pollinators and the plants they love! Check out our newest exhibit, Butterflies & Blooms, which starts on Saturday, June 1 and pledge to start your own pollinator garden by signing up for the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge today! We’ll also have gardening experts on hand during our upcoming Garden Fair to answer all your questions about plants and pollinators.
Don’t forget to check out our spring blooms – which feature some lovely Wisconsin natives – on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 12) or during National Public Gardens Week (May 13-19). We’re offering free admission for moms on Mother’s Day and free admission for all visitors on Friday, May 17 to celebrate public gardens!