This is installment number 2 in our native plant spotlight series. Native plants have many benefits over exotic or non-native plants. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for exotics in the garden. Exotics can bring beauty, utility, and positive ecological benefit, but natives really help the local ecological community. The Pennsylvania Department for the Conservation of Natural Resources (DCNR) lists 5 benefits to landscaping with native plants. They are: That the plants are adapted to local climate and conditions, that they provide food for birds and wildlife, that native pollinators are attracted to and use them as a foodsource, that they are low maintenance and require less chemical inputs, and that they maintain local biodiversity. All of these benefits contribute to maintaining our local ecosystem and the species that call that ecosystem home.
This week’s featured native plant is the New England Aster. Asters are perennial late blooming flowers, blooming summer through fall. Their blooms range from purple, to pink, red, and white. Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, and flies all enjoy their nectar. The foliage itself is an important food source for the Pearl Crescent and Silver Checkerspot caterpillars. Asters are tolerant of a lot of soil variation, from clay to sand, and wet to dry.
There are now many cultivars of Asters available that vary in height, color, bloomtime and more. They work great planted with other fall featured plants such as goldenrod and grasses. Their more muted colors do mark a transition from spectacular summer bloom colors to more subdued autumn hues.
For our featured plants, I figured we’d start with perennial flowers such as Coneflower and Asters. After that we can move on to shrubs and trees. I will try to write about plants that are easily available at most local nurseries. If you’re still not sold on the benefits of planting natives in your landscape, check out the book Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy. A wonderful review of the book can be found here.