Using Native Plants for a Bird Friendly Habitat
Photo By Barbara Driscoll
Why natives? Our local vegetation evolved with insects, birds, and other animals to create complex food webs. Wildlife consumes fruits, nuts, and seeds for sustenance, while helping to propagate the regional vegetation. Native plants, especially some tree species like oaks, are also host to a large variety of insects, which in turn are eaten by birds and other animals. Young nestlings, in particular, must consume large numbers of insects in their first weeks of life.
Non-native vegetation can provide some fruits, nuts, and seeds, but it does not host the insects that are vital to birds and the web of life. As their seeds are spread by wildlife, many non-native plants become “invasive” by outcompeting local vegetation and disrupting the local ecology.
New Hope Audubon recommended native plants for the Piedmont:
Plants native to our area are adapted to the soil and climate conditions of the area. However it is important to pick the right native plants for the variety of microclimates on your property. Our recommended native plants list for the Piedmont tells you the sun, water and soil requirements of each plant. All the plants on our list are chosen to have benefit to wildlife, and specific information about that benefit is listed for each plant species.
Doug Tallamy has developed the concept of keystone species to describe the native plant genera that support the most caterpillars and thus are one of the best food sources for baby birds. The Keystone Plants spreadsheet takes all of the larval host plants from the plant lists above and then rank orders them from most caterpillars supported to least. Thus the “keystone” plants in each category are the ones at the top of each section. Tallamy writes, “Landscapes that do not contain one or more species from keystone genera will have failed food webs, even if the diversity of other plants is very high.” Thus you should consider choosing some keystone plants by reviewing the keystone spreadsheet and then you can look up detailed plant information using the two links provided in the above section.
Other native plant lists:
- North Carolina Audubon: Bird-Friendly Native Plants
- National Audubon: National Audubon’s Plants Birds program
- North Carolina Botanical Garden: Plant Resources for Gardeners
- North Carolina State University: Interactive database of native plants
New Hope Audubon recommended sources of native plants:
We recommend the following retailers and wholesalers as possible sources of native plants for the Piedmont of North Carolina. New Hope Audubon is still educating the garden centers so you may need to ask where to find native plants. WE RECOMMEND YOU USE OUR LIST OF NATIVE PLANTS AND ASK FOR SPECIFIC PLANTS SINCE SOME OF THE STAFF MAY NOT BE KNOWLEDGEABLE. You also should ask for plants that have not been treated with neonics since these pesticides have been shown to harm bees and other pollinators. If they can’t identify plants that have not been treated, then don’t buy them and explain why you’re not to the garden center manager.