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Illinois hunting and fishing

Good reasons to “Go Native” with prairie and woodland plants

May 01, 2011 at 07:43 AM

The State Journal-Register

1. Attract birds, bees and butterflies.

Watching caterpillars grow, form a chrysalis and emerge as colorful adults is a joy that parents and young children can share.

Planting a diversity of wildflowers and grasses should attract an equally varied complement of butterflies, birds, pollinating insects and other wildlife for a family’s enjoyment.

Butterflies, for example, often are associated with specific families of plants. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweeds. Black swallowtails prefer dill, parsley and their relatives.

As insects are attracted, so are the birds that feed upon them. Hummingbirds seek nectar from flowers, but also search out small insects as a source of protein for their young.

Seed-eating birds will make use of flower seeds during fall and winter. Watch goldfinches hammer away at the dried seed head of purple coneflowers in early fall.

Illinois hunting and fishing

2. Keep your free time free by staying off the mower.

Watching birds and butterflies can be a great pastime. Just by planting a native wildflower garden, you may gain more free time to enjoy it.

Those with small acreages or big backyards may be able to reduce mowing by dedicated a portion of lawn to a prairie or wildflower garden.

Prairie gardens are especially good choices for areas of new housing developments where little shade is available.

After establishment, most native plantings require less maintenance

and little watering.

Fertilizing seedlings during transplant is not necessary.

Illinois hunting and fishing

3. Get in touch with your roots. Native plants are living history.

Digging in the dirt can bring you closer to your pioneer roots. It’s a chance to become more familiar with the wildflowers and grasses known to your ancestors.

With the prairie or woodland garden right in the backyard, plants can be observed and identified in all stages of development.

Kids can press flowers between the pages of a book or collect insects for school projects.

4. Improve your nature photography at home.

With flowers, butterflies, bugs and birds drawn to your backyard, great pictures can be right out the back door. Photographs can be taken in all kinds of light, after a rain or dew, and even during winter. And with less driving to do, more free time is available for photography.

Caterpillar host plants:
Many butterfly caterpillars feed on a variety of tree species. Here are a few plants preferred by common butterflies.
+Parsley family, including native golden Alexanders = black swallowtails
+Milkweed family = monarchs
+Dutchman’s pipe and Virginia snakeroot = pipevine swallowtail
+Spicebush plus a variety of trees including sassafras = spicebush swallowtail

Common nectar plants

+ Purple coneflower
+ Butterfly milkweed
+ Asters, especially New England Aster
+ Goldenrod (check out species besides the weedy one that grows along roadways)

Hummingbird nectar plants

+ Columbine
+ Foxglove beardstongue (Penstemon)
+ Cardinal flower
+ Blazing stars (Liatris)
+ Bergamot (Monarda)
+ Touch-me-nots


Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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