By Emily Brown, Muskoka Conservancy
Many of us are familiar with the “support local” movement and its role in improving the community. This movement often refers to our spending habits or choosing food that was grown or raised locally, but our ecosystem can also benefit greatly by applying similar principles to our backyard planting! No matter the size of your garden, adding native plants will support pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.
So, what is a native plant? Native plants grew here before European colonization. These plants adapted to the local weather conditions allowing them to survive here for thousands of years. Because these plants have adapted to this area, they basically take care of themselves. This means very little maintenance such as watering and fertilizing. Water shortages or bans make native plants ideal for gardening, even helping to prevent erosion and as a way of filtering stormwater more efficiently.
When we plant species that did not co-evolve in Muskoka, the insects our native plants would have supported are not effectively sustained. Most birds rely heavily on large amounts of insect protein close to their nest to raise their young. When the insects reduce in number because they are no longer supported by native plants, the birds then have more trouble finding insects or exhaust themselves travelling to find food. This results in the bird health and population being affected. This trend continues up the chain, resulting in a decline of the whole ecosystem.
Native plants are a tool for change that we can provide in our own garden, replacing what is often lost to suburban development. When there is a variety of native plants that bloom throughout the seasons, we can provide food for local wildlife and migrating pollinators. Miner bees become active foragers in the early spring, relying on early blooms like the white flowers of the red osier dogwood. Monarch butterflies, now internationally recognized as endangered, exclusively feed on milkweed as caterpillars, and as butterflies need nectar for their fall migration from late blooms like goldenrod. Even a single oak tree can provide food and shelter for 534 species, making it one of the best trees to add to your yard!
In the Spring, Muskoka Conservancy holds an annual native plant sale to help provide Muskoka with native perennials, trees and shrubs. Depending on soil type, sun and bloom time, there are native plants you can add to your garden that support your local ecosystem!
Emily Brown is the administrative assistant with the Muskoka Conservancy. Plain and simple, our mission is nature conservation in Muskoka. We envision a healthy, resilient Muskoka that conserves natural spaces for our own and future generations. To achieve our mission, Muskoka Conservancy is a registered charity and a Canadian corporation that operates as a land trust. That means we acquire ownership of properties and legally registered agreements with private property owners to protect land for nature conservation.
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