Small Plants, Big Impact

by Hosanna Spencer

Article by Hosanna Spencer. Cover Photo by Jackson Green.

One-third of pollinating birds have been lost due to a lack of native plants.

That’s one the eye-catching stats that Constance Murray can rattle off the top of her head. The retired biology and botany professor helped found the Oklahoma Native Plants Society and keeps a native plant garden at her home in addition to explaining the value of native flora.

A person doesn’t need to go to a home improvement or gardening store and spend hundreds of dollars. In fact, Murray suggests the opposite.

You may already know what pollinators are and why they’re so important to us, but I feel like a refresher is good every now and then! Pollinators are classified as any animal or insect that transfers pollen from one plant to another. The first thing you imagine when you hear a pollinator is probably a bee or a butterfly but there are so many more pollinators out there! For example; flies, beetles, wasps, bats, hummingbirds, and in some cases lizards all pollinate plants! Many of the pollinators rely on the plants for food and the pollination is just a result of the pollinators acquiring their sustenance.

Native plants also have a huge impact on our pollinators because many of them depend on native plants as a source of food. Because of the recent decrease in pollinators, many bird species have a decreased amount of seeds that they eat from native plants. And many non-native plants don’t produce seeds and fruit that birds can eat. In the last 50 years, bird populations have declined by around 30% in America, to put that percentage into perspective that’s almost 3 billion birds missing in the U.S! These native plants work from behind the scenes and it’s hard to notice how much they sustain wildlife until they start disappearing. Native plants have much deeper roots compared to other non-native plants, this gives them the upper hand because they are more resistant to drought, which gives them a huge advantage in Oklahoma’s unpredictable climate.

If planting something in a garden or larger area isn’t possible, there are some native plants that do fine in a pot, just make sure to never plant anything in Oklahoma during the months of May, June, July, and August because the weather is too hot and dry, Murray says.

The best time to plant seeds in your garden is during fall because many native plants require overwintering before they germinate, says Murray.

And really planting some non-native plants that are controllable and that don’t take over an entire area is okay, and some non-native plants actually can provide some sources of food to pollinators. Just make sure that the non-native plants you have don’t require an excess amount of fertilizers and watering just to keep it alive, and if that is the case it’s best to find an alternative as that intense care can damage your local habitats.

The Oklahoma Native Plant Society (ONPS) has a lot of helpful resources about native plants and how to incorporate them into your gardens. They’ve listed in their Native Gardening section where to get native seeds and some businesses that do Native Landscaping. There’s also the Oklahoma Native Plant network with different programs you participate in and some lists of native plants. Constance Murray has a major in biology and botany and has been a State President for the Oklahoma Native Plant Society for 2 years in a row in 2005-2006.

“Plants that are indigenous to our state are tough and adapted to the Oklahoma landscape. They provide food and habitat to support pollinators, improve soil health, prevent erosion, reduce air pollution, provide many other ecological benefits, and they are BEAUTIFUL. But we need more and you can help! NATIVE plants belong not only in our wild spaces, but in our front yards, office landscapes, and community spaces,”

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