What exactly is a native plant? According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) a native plant is defined as those that have developed over hundreds or thousands of years in a particular region or ecosystem. In the United States only plants found in this country prior to European settlers are considered to be native.
Native plants are a great choice in the home landscape for a number of reasons. They are excellent at attracting butterflies, birds, and wildlife. Pollinators are some of native plants biggest fans as they produce flowers, nectar, and pollen throughout the year. The seeds and berries produced by native plants provide food for wildlife and birds. Oak trees are one of the best native trees you can add to your home landscape. Oak trees serve as a host to over 500 species of butterflies and moths. While most oak trees are native to the United States, the Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) is the only oak tree native to Louisiana.
An additional bonus of native plants is that the majority of them are low maintenance. They are well suited to our climate and require minimal care. Many native plants are drought tolerant or can withstand wet feet. They are more resistant to damage caused by insects and diseases. Native plants create a beautiful, natural look in your landscape. They can be left to grow with little pruning needed.
If you are contemplating adding trees, shrubs or other plants to your landscape why not consider some native options. Large native trees include the southern live oak, bald cypress, boxelder maple, red maple, southern magnolia and sweetbay magnolia. Small native trees include the American fringetree, pawpaw, red mulberry, southern blackhaw, and two-wing silverbell. American beautyberry, Carolina rose, coralberry, oakleaf hydrangea, swamp azalea, swamp mallow, yaupon holly, and wild azalea are examples of native shrubs. If you would like to start by incorporating native herbaceous perennials into a flower bed or pot try cardinal flower, great coneflower, Louisiana iris or Turk’s cap.
The availability of native plants can be an issue for some gardeners. Check with local nurseries first and then search for reputable online retailers. Native plants and seeds may be available at plant swaps or sales conducted by garden clubs and master gardener associations. Several of these are coming up this spring in Ascension and surrounding parishes. If you can’t find the native plant you are looking for be sure to let the retailer know. If enough people ask perhaps they will add more native plants to a future order or begin to propagate their own. Mariah Simoneaux is the Horticulture Agent serving Ascension and Assumption Parishes. For more information visit www.LSUAgCenter.com or contact Mariah at MJSimoneaux@agcenter.LSU.edu.