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  • Writer's pictureBrice Claypoole

How to Support Wildlife: Plant Native!

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

A Selenisa caterpillar on a native partridge pea plant.

Photo by Brice Claypoole

On a recent trip to Terra Ceia Nature Preserve, I couldn’t count all the animals and plants. Sulphur butterflies flitted by and a selenisa caterpillar reared and bucked on a plant, trying to frighten us off. Bees and wasps buzzed. On the way home we passed suburban yards, pretty in their own manicured way, but none of them were full of life like Terra Ceia. They look like dead zones in comparison. Why is this? Why doesn’t life prosper in these human-made landscapes like it does in a wild preserve? There is one simple answer: native plants.

What is a native plant? A native plant is a plant that originated in an area. So, a Florida native plant originated in Florida. In wild areas, native plants make up most of the landscape. In a suburban yard non-native exotics that the plant industry cultivates for their beauty make up most of the landscape. So why is this lack of natives important? This is important because native animals have adapted to feed on native plants over millions of years. So, in areas dominated by non-natives, animals simply cannot find food.

According to renowned entomologist, Douglas Tallamy, native oak trees support at least 534 species of lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) caterpillars. So, more native plants equal more moths and butterflies. They also equal more birds. Without moths and other arthropods, we would lose 96% of terrestrial bird species in North America. How can that be?! Birds are dependent on little insects like moths? Baby birds need energy packed and plentiful food to survive and it happens that insects, especially caterpillars, fit that need perfectly. Without insects, baby birds wouldn’t have enough food to survive.

Birds, such as these painted buntings, often eat seeds when they’re adults. As babies they depend on insects, which in turn depend on native plants.

Photo by Brice Claypoole

Another important feature of native plants is their blooms. They have more and easier to access nectar for bees, butterflies, wasps, and other pollinators than the non-native, sometimes double-flowered cultivars that we grow in our manicured landscapes.

Just because the typical suburban yard is not supporting wildlife doesn’t mean it can’t! By simply planting natives and eliminating pesticide use, you can make your garden a refuge for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife! You don’t have to completely redo your garden. You can start by just planting a couple of natives. Be sure to get them from a native nursery as many other nurseries have very limited selections of native plants. If you live in Florida, you can find a native nursery near you at

Native plants are sometimes thought of as dull or ugly, but in reality, they are neither. Here are a few pictures of Florida native plants whose beauty outshines even the butterflies that love them:

1. Locustberry

The flowers of this eye-catching South Florida native slowly turn from white to deep pink as they age. A single plant will be covered in flowers of all different shades of white and pink.

Photo by Brice Claypoole

2. Beach sunflower

Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) is a cheery native sunflower of Florida’s coastal dunes. Its bright flowers attract butterflies and bees.

Photo by Brice Claypoole

3. Maypop passion vine

The gorgeously intricate blooms of the maypop or purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) are, in my opinion, one of the most amazing flower designs in nature. They are the host plant for the gulf fritillary (Dione vanillae), zebra longwing (Heliconius charithonia), and the Julia heliconian (Dryas iulia)

Photo by Brice Claypoole

4. Swamp milkweed

These moisture loving wildflowers are the host for the monarch (Danaus plexippus) and queen (D. gilippus) butterflies!

Photo by Brice Claypoole

5. Dotted horse mint (Monarda punctata)

This native plant in the mint family is both extraordinarily good for pollinators and extraordinarily unique.

Photo by Brice Claypoole

If we all plant natives in our gardens, we can stitch back together the fragmented habitats of isolated nature preserves in our human-dominated world. As Tallamy says, we can create a “Home Grown National Park”. By planting natives we can ensure a better future for the planet as well as beautiful gardens!

A leaf cutter bee (Megachile xylocopoides ) visits a butterfly daisy (Bidens alba), one of the most plentiful and beautiful native plants.

Photo by Brice Claypoole

Sources Cited:

Tallamy, Douglas W. Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Timber Press, 2007.

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1 Comment

Sep 12, 2021

Excellent article, Brice. Love, G'ma

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