A new marketing and educational program in Missouri is aiming to promote the use of native plant species in the lower Midwest. The Grow Native! initiative aims to preserve the region’s ecosystem and encourage biodiversity in the area.
The term “native plant” describes plants that are indigenous to a particular area; these types of plants have developed or existed for many years in a specific location, and they occur there naturally. Native plants are not present in an area as the result of human intervention, and the conditions of a region (soil, water, temperature, sunlight and pollinators) make the native plants perfectly suited to grow there.
Grow Native! is working to encourage those living in the region to preserve and proliferate these species. The program is part of the Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF), which aims to “protect and restore prairie and other native grassland communities through acquisition, management, education, and research,” according to the organization’s mission statement.
Yet these plants aren’t just good for the gardens of Missouri residents. MPF Executive Director Carol Davit explains that the ecological interactions between plants and their pollinators are the top reason for growing native.
Plants get pollinated through contact with animals and insects. In many cases, this is the honeybee. Non-native honeybees can effectively pollinate many plants, but Davit warns against depending solely on them, saying that the region must increase its “portfolio of pollinators” in order to maintain its crops.
Native insects and native plants go hand-in-hand, especially when considering the exclusive relationships some species have with specific plants. Monarchs are associated with milkweed, for instance, and black swallowtails are known for pollinating plants in the parsley family.
Native plants are also good for the ecosystem; because they have evolved to tolerate certain climates, they can sometimes require less water in areas where droughts are common. They also provide biological diversity, or biodiversity, which sustains an ecosystem through the survival of a wide variety of plant and animal species.
The Grow Native! website, grownative.org, has several educational and informational resources, including a searchable native plant database, sample garden patterns, and Top 10 lists on edibles native plants, sun and shade gardens, attracting wildlife and pollinators to native plants, and much more. The organization also hosts community events related to plant life, gardening, and other environmental causes.