The Importance of Native Plants

TulipTreeFlowerDid you know that our local native wildlife is dependent on local native plants?

Native butterfly species require host plants for their larvae to feed on. Some species, such as the American Snout, Monarch and Karner Blue, are specialists and their larvae can only eat and live on a specific plant genus and its species.

The American Snout caterpillar eats only Hackberry leaves. Hackberries are in the genus Celtis and there are a few species in Eastern North America – without these species there would be no American Snouts.

Most people are familiar with the Monarch butterfly and the fact that the Monarch caterpillars eat only Milkweed leaves. Milkweeds are in the genus Asclepias and there are several species that the Monarch caterpillars can eat.

Another example is the Karner Blue butterfly. This butterfly’s larvae require native Wild Lupine to live on. Wild Lupine has become a rare species, found in Oak Savannah habitats in the southwest of Ontario. These Savannahs have become endangered spaces and the losses of the Savannah habitats and the Wild Lupine have resulted in the extirpation of the Karner Blue butterfly from Ontario.

The thing that most people don’t know is that these butterfly caterpillars can’t eat an Asian Hackberry leaf, or a foreign Milkweed or Lupine leaf. They don’t recognize them as food. They will eat only the local native species. That’s because there is a evolutionary bond/link between native species of flora and fauna. An evolutionary bond that developed over millions of years between these butterflies and these plants.

Of course, this evolutionary bond goes way beyond butterflies, it’s true with the majority of our native species. We need native plants in our landscapes and ecosystems to support native wildlife. It’s all part of the web of life and healthy ecosystems, and that’s important to all of us.

Larry Cornelis,
Return the Landscape