Why Choose Native Plants When Gardening?

One hundred years ago, Wilhelm Miller, head of the University of Illinois extension program in 1912, and Ossian C. Simonds, a landscape architect in the Chicago region, both spoke of the value of gardening with native plants.

“Nature teaches what to plant.  By going to the neighboring woods and seeing the trees and plants and shrubs they contain, one can tell pretty accurately what plants will do well in any given locality,” Simonds said.

However, there are far more benefits that come from using native plants than just an easier time growing and maintaining a particular garden.  The positives include a sense of place, stormwater management and erosion control, wildlife habitats and a resistance to deer browse, among others.

Sense of Place

Shaw Nature Reserve defines sense of place as the familiarity and feeling of belonging that comes from a heartfelt connection with the surrounding elements of nature.

For Missouri residents, one plant in particular that can foster that familiarity is the flowering dogwood, which is so prevalent that it was chosen as the state tree.

Red backlit leaves of a Flowering dogwood tree, Cornus florida, on the banks of the lake basin in the Japanese Garden. (Photo by Tom Incrocci)

Stormwater Management and Erosion Control

Deep, strong root systems provided by native plants, particularly trees, can slow down and absorb rainwater, which helps reduce the quantity and velocity of stormwater runoff and also improves water quality.  In addition, the root systems also help soil in place, slowing erosion.

Wildlife Habitats

A diversity of native shrubs, perennials, grasses and trees can provide food and shelter for insects, birds, amphibians and mammals during the growing season.  Food and shelter can still be provided through the winter if seed heads and plant structures are left in place throughout the season.

Shaw Nature Reserve Summer Blooms and Bugs
Two silver-spotted skippers perch on a thimbleweed seed head in August, 2016.                      (Photo by JJ Mueller)

Some native plants can also be specifically used to attract local and migratory birds to your garden.

Resistance to Deer Browse

Some native plants have the ability to repel deer due to either their smell or texture.  The aromatic foliage of wild bergamot and round-leaved groundsel can serve as a deterrent, as can the coarse texture of rattlesnake master and prickly pear cactus.

Prickly-pear, Opuntia microdasys Acquisition Number: 772864
Prickly pear cactus       (Photo by Tom Incrocci)
Shaw Nature Reserve Summer Blooms and Bugs
The fragrant blooms of wild bergamot bloom during the summer at Shaw Nature Reserve.   (Photo by JJ Mueller)


To learn more about why and how to grow native plants, visit Grow Native!, a program run by the Missouri Prairie Foundation.

Morgan Niezing
Digital Media Intern

One Comment Add yours

  1. Glenda Abney says:

    Excellent topic, thanks for posting this article!

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