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Ohio Native Plant Month

Written by: TNC Volunteer, Elizabeth Anderson

This April is Ohio’s 4th annual Native Plant month!
This initiative was founded in 2019 when Ohio became the first state to pass a law designating an entire month to native plants. Since then, the idea has gone national. In January 2021, Senator Rob Portman offered to be the lead sponsor of a resolution to recognize the importance of native plants. Two months later, this resolution was unanimously passed, designating April 2021 National Native Plant Month. The goal of this project is to serve as a reminder of the importance of the planting of native species and the removal of invasives. The benefits of native plants are promoted through hosting educational programs, planting native trees and shrubs, removing invasive plants from yards and communities, and replacing lawn areas with native plant gardens. Unlike in Ohio, National Native Plant Month is a resolution, not a law. So, it will need to be renewed each year. The Oak Openings Green Ribbon Initiative (GRI) and its Native Plant Working Group (NPWG) are celebrating Native Plant Month this year. Join the celebration in 2022 and help spread the word so that Native Plant Month can go national every year!

For Oak Openings Region native plant resources and upcoming programs in the area, please visit our GRI Celebrates Native Plant Month! page

So, why are native plants so important?
Native plants are a critical food source for native wildlife. They are more beneficial than non-native plants because the native wildlife and plants have had thousands of years to adapt to one another, whereas most native wildlife could not hope to evolve quickly enough to eat exotic non-native plants. For example, monarch butterfly caterpillars, an Ohio native insect, are a specialist on milkweed, an Ohio native plant. The milkweed plant provides them food, shelter, a place to make a cocoon, and a place to lay eggs as adults. Milkweed is toxic to most species, but monarch caterpillars adapted by developing an immunity to its toxins over years of evolution. This offers them protection from predators. By consuming the toxic milkweed plant, the caterpillars’ bodies become poisonous as well, deterring predators such as birds, from eating them. Without native milkweed, we would lose the monarch butterfly, a beautiful insect and important pollinator.

Non-native invasive plants are often aggressive, difficult to control, and quickly dominate large areas, outcompeting native plants. In the Oak Openings region, glossy buckthorn, autumn olive, and common teasel are three out of many problematic invasives. They are aggressive competitors, severely degrading quality habitat through their displacement of desirable native species. Common teasel has been seen growing in complete monocultures, and glossy buckthorn and autumn olive are capable of spreading so quickly that they limit light and nutrient availability to native species, and can even suppress native growth through allelopathy, the release of germination-inhibiting compounds into the soil.

Removing invasive species and replacing them with natives is critical in maintaining quality habitat in our Oak Openings Region. Simply replacing lawn space in your own backyard  with a native garden is beneficial as well. Did you know that the crop grown in the highest abundance in the U.S. is not corn, wheat or soybeans? It’s actually turf grass! While not a particularly harmful invasive species, turf grass requires massive amounts of water to maintain and provides little to no food or shelter for native wildlife. Replacing just small portions of Ohio lawn areas with native Oak Openings species would go a long way in establishing the foundation for a healthy ecosystem.

Do you want to help make a difference?
Plant a native plant garden in your yard! Planting native species such as butterfly weed, purple cone flowers, and blazing star not only add beautiful vibrant colors to a garden, but also provide a precious food source and habitat for pollinators and native wildlife. Ohio Native Plant month is crucial in raising awareness about the benefits of native plants, and encouraging the establishment of native food sources and habitats for a healthy ecosystem.

We encourage you to learn more about Oak Openings native plants and opportunities to get involved by visiting our GRI Celebrates Native Plant Month! page during April – Ohio and National Native Plant Month!

For additional information about Ohio Native Plant Month, please visit: https://www.ohionativeplantmonth.org/