Monarch caterpillar on swamp milkweed (Carol Roberts)
Native plants growing naturally in our Cedar Creek watershed include ferns, grasses,
shrubs, and trees, and beautiful woodland wildflowers such as trout lily, trillium,
hepatica, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and spring beauty.
Native plants are the ecological basis upon which life depends, including birds and
people. “Native plants [and animals] have evolved in a given place over a period of
time sufficient to develop complex and essential relationships with the physical
environment and other organisms in a given ecological community” (Darke and Tallamy).
Through human encroachment (development, urbanization), native habitat (wetlands,
forests, meadows) and farmland continue to be destroyed, threatening extinction of
some native species, such as those listed above. Restoring and helping ensure
this native habitat thrives is vital to nurturing and sustaining the Cedar Creek
Everything natural on Earth is connected.
Native plants and native insects evolved together. Here’s the connection:
Plants are the only organisms that can transform the sun’s energy
into a form that can be used by other organisms.
The largest group of these “other organisms” are insects which, in turn,
provide the crucial life link for all other species higher up in the food chain.
So the higher the percentage of native plants, the higher the number of native
insects that support other species.
Fewer native plants means fewer native insects. (When habitat loss and
pesticides caused the rusty-patched bumblebee’s population to plummet 90% since
the mid-1990’s, it became the first bumble bee to receive federal endangered species
Fewer native insects means fewer native birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals,
such as bats.
In a healthy, biodiverse Cedar Creek ecosystem, pollen from a variety of native plants
attracts butterflies, pollinating bees, and other helpful insects, establishing amazing
complex relationships with other native plants and animals, such as these:
Nestling birds--not yet able to leave the nest--require protein that is
only obtained from insects. But without native plants, native insects
cannot survive, and without these insects, the nestling birds cannot
survive. (Research by entomologist Doug Tallamy shows that "native oak trees
support over 500 species of native caterpillars while ginkgos, a commonly planted
landscape tree from Asia, host only 5 species of caterpillars. When it takes over
6,000 caterpillars to raise just one brood of chickadees, that is a significant
Dutchman’s breeches appear in spring on Cedar Creek’s steep northern banks---
just in time to feed emerging queen bees.
Toad Trillium/Toadshade’s maroon, malodorous petals [the color and smell of
rotting meat] attract flies which pollinate the flower; then the flies become
food for hummingbirds which arrive in the Cedar Creek valley at the same time.
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the undersides of milkweed leaves--the
only food source for monarch larvae. After eating milkweed, the monarch larvae
acquire a bitter taste which repels predators. The problem? 80% of all Midwestern
milkweeds have been eradicated due to unpredictable weather, human development,
Gardening with native plants (Carol Roberts)
So what can I do to help?
Turn all or part of your yard into a restored natural area by adding or
re-establishing native plants (including milkweed for the Monarchs). Native plants
not only support wildlife: they also can make your life easier. Native plants:
know where they belong and how to take care of themselves.
are better able to resist nonnative insects, disease, and drought.
do not eradicate other species of plants (as invasive plants do).
need no fertilizing, thinning, watering, mowing, herbicide spraying
(though they do need decaying leaves/natural mulch around them).
beautifully support and blend into Cedar Creek’s diverse natural surroundings
while honoring Indiana’s natural heritage.
At summer’s end, put into sealed trash bags your “dead” nonnative species
from domestic gardens and porch flowerpots. Do not dump them onto property borders
(like the back of your lot) that edge woods or other wild areas, or they may reseed
and invade the natural areas.
Want open space in your patch of earth, but something easier to care for than a
mono-culture, fertilized, raked and regularly-mowed lawn? Try planting a
natural, low maintenance “lawn” of at least two native grasses that will wave in the
wind while providing food for different kinds of wildlife (including pollinators),
room for ground-nesting birds, and a subtle beauty that can please your eye and
lift your spirits. (Local sources are listed below.)
Learn how to identify, locate, control, and eradicate aggressive invasive
plants in the Cedar Creek valley. (Warning: never plant these invasives--they will
take over!) Invasives include autumn olive, bouncing bet, buckthorn
(glossy and common), bull thistle, bush honeysuckle, callery pear, Canada
thistle, common and cut leaf teasel, creeping Charlie, dame’s rocket, English
ivy, garlic mustard,Japanese barberry, Japanese stiltgrass, multiflora rose,
oriental bittersweet, pachysandra (Japanese spurge), periwinkle/myrtle (vinca minor),
phragmites (reed canary grass), tree of heaven, and white mulberry. You can find
complete lists of nonnative invasive plants with their native alternatives at
and in other sources listed below.