I’ve become semi-obsessed with native plant species in the past few years – partly as a result of two awesome classes I took in undergrad, but increasingly also because it’s useful to know the ecology of places where you’re doing archaeology. And also because I have this dream garden I’m planning for when I have a house (which I don’t), and I’m very excited about the idea of using native flora to attract and support local fauna – birds, butterflies, lightning bugs, dragonflies, bats, frogs, toads, skinks, turtles…I’m interested in pretty much any wildlife that isn’t parasitic or deadly.
I decided to post about some of the native species I’ve encountered in the field this month, since I’ve come across some of my very favorite examples of why planting native is awesome. First, there’s this gorgeousness:
It’s a passionflower, and yes, it’s edible, according to Temperate Climate Permaculture (they even give instructions for using the fruit and leaves in cooking and teas). Not only is it gorgeous and tasty, it’s also good for your friendly neighborhood local pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. And who doesn’t want butterflies and hummingbirds in their garden??? Local birds like the fruit, too, so you can consider this a self-filling bird-feeder that squirrels won’t ravage.
Even more attractive to butterflies are several (very pretty!) varieties of native milkweed, which can be hot pink, pale pink, dark purple, and orange (I’ve also heard of red and yellow varieties, but I don’t know if those are native to this area or not). In the field this month, I worked in two areas full of milkweed plants, and there were literally dozens and dozens of butterflies going crazy over the flowers. Hummingbirds and bees are also fans, but the swallowtails, red spotted purple admirals, and monarchs were definitely the most enthusiastic dudes at the concert.
Swamp milkweed with Eastern tiger swallowtail (left) / Butterfly milkweed (right)
Native plants also support lightning bugs (who, like bees, are declining in population these days). Aside from being little twinkles of happiness, lightning bugs also EAT MOSQUITOES – so do dragonflies! So there’s an incentive for you to plant a rain garden of native species to attract lightning bugs and dragonflies.
I also met this horse last week, and there’s nothing that says Kentucky like a handsome horse, so here: