Native Plants

Native Michigan Plants For Better Michigan Landscapes

What is a “native plant”?

A native plant is a type of plant that could be found in a specified area prior to European settlement.  As compared to non-native plants (some of which are recognized as invasive species), a native plant went through the process of evolution in association with the plants, animals, insects, and other creatures that live in the area to which it is native.  Due to this co-evolutionary process, many of the surrounding plants, animals, insects, and other living things have learned to rely on each other to perform functions such as pollination, pest control, and population control, as well as act as supplies of food and/or shelter to each other.

Removal, loss, and/or replacement of native plants in their home range by other non-native plants can have negative consequences for the environment.  Conversely, reintroduction of native species into the landscape can have positive benefits for many different species of organisms.  Many people are recognizing the benefits of native plants over traditional landscaping practices of the past and instead are choosing to grow native plants.

How does landscaping with native plants differ from more traditional landscaping, and how does it benefit me?

Just about everyone can agree that laying down on a bed of green grass in the spring produces a fine feeling.  But the grasses typically used in a lawn do not provide the benefits that other native plants can provide to the environment.  Keep in mind that in the not too distant past (probably less than 200 years), your back yard was crawling with all sorts of wildlife.

One of the key benefits to landowners thinking about including more native plants in their landscaping can be seen once you start looking in the soil at the roots.  In the picture below you can see how the root structure of turf grass compares with a selection of native plant roots (not all, but many of the pictured examples are found in Michigan).  Click the image to enlarge it.

Roots of turf grass vs. native plants.  Source:  www.epa.gov.
Roots of turf grass vs. native plants. Source: www.epa.gov.

The roots of turf grass goes only roughly 1 inch deep while the roots of big bluestem (a Michigan native grass) goes about 9 feet into the ground!  All that extra root mass helps to filter pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticide, and sediment from water after it rains by keeping the soil in place.

Another way native plants can be beneficial to landowners is if you live adjacent to a body of water and think you have a geese problem.  Chances are you really have a landscaping problem.  Geese tend to land in wide, open spaces such as lawns because there are no places nearby for predators to hide.

Now, imagine a goose has to choose between landing on one of two properties on a lake.  One is a nicely manucured lawn with no variation in the plant community with any trees or shrubs being placed far away from the waterfront.  The second lawn has  6-7 foot tall big bluestem grass with the exception of a 3-5 foot wide path heading down to the water for public access.  The goose is going to choose to land on the first option every time because it is SAFE!  The property owner of the second lawn is not only going to miss out on having to clean up goose droppings, but they are going to help keep their lake cleaner and free of algae blooms by decreasing fertilizer run-off.

Who do you want as your neighbor?

Where can I learn more about native Michigan plants?

The Allegan Conservation District is capable of providing advice regarding native plants, what would grow well in your landscape conditions, and where to find sources of native plants in the area.  Call (269) 673-6940, ext. 5, email justin.burchett@macd.org, or stop into the office for help.

You can also check out these great resources below.