What ARE Native Plants, Anyway?
We’ve talked a lot about the importance of native plants in Forest Friends, but exactly what they are may remain a mystery. Basically, native plants are those that have grown in a particular area for hundreds or thousands of years and are part of an ecosystem where plants and animals support each other.
One example: a white oak (native) hosts more than 500 insects as opposed to a ginkgo (exotic, native to the Far East) hosts only 5. You may think that is a good thing (no “pests”!), but native insects do not destroy native plants. They nibble at them enough to grow and the insects, in turn, are kept in balance by our native birds. A clutch of Carolina chickadees needs around 9000 caterpillars to grow to fledgling stage!
Most of the trees (e.g. oaks, hickories, wild cherries, river birch, pecans, and both loblolly and longleaf pines) in our neighborhood are native, which is why we have a wealth of birdlife. Most of our shrubbery, on the other hand, is exotic. Many folks think that traditional Carolina landscape plants (e.g. camellias, sasanquas, gardenias, boxwood, and evergreen azaleas) are native, but they are not. These plants are mostly from Japan and China and host few native insects.
Think instead of blueberries, yaupon holly, beautyberry, spice bush, wax myrtle, and native azaleas. These and many others support pollinators, who in turn support our birds. And, by the way, more birds mean healthier people! Read more about why native plants are better for birds and people at the Audubon website…
All of this does not mean you should rip out your non-native landscaping, or that nothing but 100 percent native landscaping will do. Exotic plants have a place and can add interest and beauty to your yard. But as non-natives age out, think of replacing them with natives. Or if you have a yard of mostly turf (non-native), think of adding some native trees and shrubs, grasses, and vines! And stay tuned in the coming months for information on our next native tree give-away.
Many organizations offer great lists of native plants by area, but here is one from the National Wildlife Federation…
Email Valerie Marcil at email@example.com with questions.
You may have heard some of the buzz about No Mow May, which encourages homeowners with lawns to eliminate or reduce lawn mowing in the month of May to allow flowering plants in your grass to bloom to help support pollinators in the spring when sources of pollen are limited. Try it if you like, but an even better approach (for many reasons) is to begin to replace some of your turf with understory plants, and open pollinator gardens.
Understory plants are the small trees (like dogwoods) that love to live in the dappled shade of larger trees (the upper story), as well as native shrubs and perennials that thrive with a bit of shade.
If you have an open, sunny lawn, try adding a rain garden, a regular pollinator garden full of native perennials, or a sunny border garden full of native grasses and other plants. Taking these latter approaches can provide almost year round sources of pollen, seeds and berries for wildlife, while at the same time helping to improve absorption of rainwater, and reduce the pollution and chemicals needed to maintain a lawn.
This approach also allows you to maintain a tidy lawn where you really want some lawn, albeit a somewhat smaller lawn (phew! less mowing!).
Some links about alternatives to large lawns, and native plants to use instead:
How and why to reduce the area you mow – bit by bit…
Great resources from Clemson for creating rain gardens…
National Wildlife Federation plant finder for 29205 zip code…
SC Wildflower collections…
Email Valerie Marcil at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Spring is a great time to think about complimenting the larger plants in our forest (trees), with shrubs and perennials that attract pollinators, and thus support our birds and other wildlife.
Pollinators also play a huge role in food production, so if you are a backyard vegetable gardener, the pollinators will make your vegetable garden more productive, too! And what you want mostly is native plants that support all stages of the pollinators.
The Upstate Chapter of the SC Native Plant Society assembled a list of native plants for wildlife, broken down by shade, sun, wet, and dry, and also by trees, shrubs, and perennials. Even though upstate plants are featured, many, if not most, can be grown in the Midlands:
Native Plants for Wildlife pdf…
Have you noticed all the lovely white blossoms in the neighborhood and along the highways recently? Mostly they are Bradford pears, widely used for a while to line streets and adorn yards, but now extremely problematic. The Bradford pear, a cultivar of the non-native Chinese Callery pear, was promoted as an ornamental that was sterile and would not jump into the wild. Disasterously, that has not been the case.
Bradfords have successfully cross-pollinated with other pears and reverted to their ancient thorny Callery form, contributing to one of the worst invasive plant species in the Southeast. The trees readily seed into natural habitats. They appear to be beautiful in the spring, especially along the highways, but they form impenetrable thorny thickets that choke the life out of our valuable native species.
Beginning October 1, 2024, it will be illegal for Bradford Pear trees, Callery pears, and other related species to be sold at nurseries in South Carolina, but the law does nothing to eliminate existing problematic trees.
If you have a Bradford pear on your property, consider taking it down and replacing it with a beautiful native. Most Bradford pears in our neighborhood are very old anyway and past their peak. No one likes to remove established ornamentals, but if you have a Bradford pear and want help evaluating it, the Forest Friends Committee would be glad to help.
And, come fall, you can get a free replacement through our native tree give-away program!
Email Valerie Marcil with questions.
Can you spot a longleaf pine Pinus palustris? They are the pines with super long needles (up to 18”!) that landscapers covet for mulching. They also have the largest cones in the Southeast (6-15 inches). Our neighborhood has remnants of the of an old longleaf pine forest that covered most of the southeast several hundred years ago before commercial lumbering reduced the stock to 3% or less of what it used to be
Our neighborhood is special – we still have some longleafs. Many yards in Sherwood Forest have a longleaf pine. See if you can spot them! Look for those giant cones and then look up for pom poms of very long needles. In the fall you can see the needles on the ground, too (they’ll be the length of your forearm, or more). Don’t throw them away – rake them up and use them around your shrubbery!
And treasure the trees. In addition to being great for mulch, longleaf pines have many other benefits. They have very deep taproots and strong wood, making them resistant to damage or toppling from storms. They are drought tolerant, and provide lovely filtered shade and habitat for a number of important species (including humans).
Visit this North Carolina State website for more information…
Let us know if you have a longleaf pine in your yard, and if you would like help with identification from the Forest Friends Committee, contact Valerie Marcil by phone at 803-331-1138 or email.
In Sherwood Forest, we are grateful to celebrate that our neighborhood is considered an urban forest. Our neighborhood includes the 9-acre Belser Arboretum with its 130 foot high poplars and over 130 varieties of wooded plantings, including seven of Columbia’s Treasured Trees. This urban forest also shelters an abundance of wildlife.
And while we as a neighborhood association cannot enforce a tree removal policy for your personal property, we have some thoughts to share.
While we acknowledge that there are reasons for tree removal due to disease or damage we are against clear cutting on a property. We have compiled a shortlist of some of the benefits of trees in all stages of growth. If you still want to remove trees, we ask that you consult a certified arborist to speak about your safety concerns. Before you proceed make sure your contractor is licensed, bonded and insured.
And finally, do not remove any trees from the City right of way on your property or face serious fines. The City will be glad to remove diseased or dangerous trees on the right of way for you, and will provide a replacement tree, too.
Embrace our forest life!