The week of April 20-26 is recognized as Native Plant Week, thanks to a proclamation signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson Feb. 10. The proclamation, promoted by Audubon Arkansas and the Arkansas Native Plant Society, recognizes the importance of native plants in bird-friendly communities and beyond, according to the Arkansas Wildlife weekly newsletter.
Anyone can support wildlife by planting bird- and butterfly-friendly plant species for year-round food, cover and shelter, according to a release by Arkansas Audubon.
Regionally adapted or native plants have evolved with local growing conditions and support local food webs. Flower gardens and landscapes using Arkansas’ native plants conserve water, save energy, and reduce pollutants and pesticides in comparison to turf grasses and exotic plants. Some exotic ornamental plants used in landscaping also can spread through seeds to “escape” into natural areas, where they outcompete native species and reduce biodiversity.
“Native plants are food for native insects that are food for our birds,” said Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director for Audubon Arkansas. “With 96 percent of all terrestrial bird species feeding insects to their young, planting insect-proof exotic plants is like serving up plastic food. No insects? No birds.”
Susan Hardin, co-president of the Arkansas Native Plant Society, said many species of native plants can be just as beautiful and showy as exotic ornamental species.
“Many native species are blooming now, so if you can do so safely, it’s time to get out to enjoy and explore their beauty and diversity across The Natural State,” Hardin said.
She is also heartened by the fact that “native plant nurseries are growing in number as the value of native plants are better understood by consumers.”
Allison Fowler, wildlife diversity program coordinator at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said that providing native flowers is one of the most important things people can do to support native pollinators. Flowers provide nectar, the primary food source for bees and butterflies.
“Many native plants also serve as host plants for butterfly species,” Fowler said. “For instance, monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed, and it is the only plant monarch caterpillars will eat.”
In addition to the governor’s statewide proclamation, Native Plant Week proclamations have been made by the mayors of Little Rock and Texarkana, as well as the property owners association of Hot Springs Village. These were signed with support from three local Audubon chapters: Audubon Society of Central Arkansas, Tex-Ark Audubon Society, and Hot Springs Village Audubon Society, respectively.
Anyone interested in incorporating native plants into their landscaping can consult National Audubon’s Plants for Birds database (audubon.org/plantsforbirds), which helps users find the best plants for the birds in their area. Details: Dan Scheiman at email@example.com or 501-366-0840.