As humans, we micromanage every corner of our earth, almost. And, for those mostly inhabitable places, we still try to make a mark. That micromanagement has led to some problems for plants, wildlife and beneficial insects, even for ourselves. Since we take up almost every corner of our earth, we leave an indelible mark on everything, from plants, trees, wildlife, birds and butterflies. Most of the time it is to their detriment. We’ve taken away habitat, we have taken food sources, in some cases, changed the natural order of our environment, and poisoned others. What may seem okay in some instances turns out to be wrong in others. That’s why we are hearing of many animals and plants that are disappearing or endangered.

A case in point would be the Monarch butterfly which has been gradually declining over several years. Since Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, the loss of milkweed plants have severely affected their numbers. Studies have shown that the use of glyphosate herbicides on agricultural land parallel the loss of milkweed. Pesticides are also used along roadsides and railroads, once areas where milkweed grew in abundance. Fencerows are declining, another area where milkweed could be found, so what remains? If you’re a gardener you might consider growing a patch of common milkweed just for the Monarchs. They are an interesting plant in their own right and the flowers have wonderful aroma and are very pretty, as well.

In the past I have written how milkweed pods were collected for the war effort to stuff life vests. Milkweed fluff can also be used to make yarn. The plant is edible if parboiled and has a great flavor, reminiscent of broccoli. There are other species of milkweed, swamp milkweed with deeper pink flowers and butterfly weed with its brilliant orange flowers. I have even seen Monarch larva on whorled milkweed, a smaller plant with very narrow leaves and much smaller blooms. One does not have to buy expensive hybrid nursery plants to have beautiful flowers or interesting plants for your garden. There are other native plants that can be just as pretty and are accustomed to our weather and growing conditions. Since this is true, they will do better.

Wild ginger makes a great groundcover and has interesting flowers and pretty leaves plus an aromatic rhizome. The common violet also makes a pretty plant, is edible and comes in white, yellow and lavender. They naturalize in the lawn and make a nice contribution to versatility. They are used by butterflies for a food source for their larva. When you think of butterflies and birds, there are many native plants you can cultivate to draw them to your yard and garden. All types of wild asters are beloved by butterflies, and they can be white or into blues; sometimes they begin white and fade into blue. Wild blue phlox, often seen blooming in the woods in early spring, is also beloved by butterflies both for nectar and for feeding larva. Hummingbirds like them as well.

Joe-Pye weed and boneset are both pretty flowering plants that are loved by butterflies and bees. They bloom in late summer to fall. Coneflowers are long lasting with their yellow petals and brown or dark centers. They make a good background plant for your flowerbed and bloom over a long period of time. Rudbeckias such as black-eyed Susans are also good background plants, while goldenrod and asters make a wonder background in the fall. Goldenrod is great for bees and butterflies, as well. We can’t forget the Monardas such as wild bergamot which blooms lavender and the red beebalm we often see in nurseries. Both are loved by butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. They make a wonderful tea and are very aromatic both as plants and blooms.

Sunflowers are much loved by many birds for food; although not native, the Mexican sunflower is greatly loved by butterflies. Its orange flowers make a statement in the garden and are always covered with butterflies of many species. But all sunflowers make great garden statements with their stately growth and huge flowers. Plus the seeds are loved by cardinals and goldfinch as well as other song birds.

It just seems to make sense that we try to nurture these plants that do well in our area and are important to bees, butterflies and birds, as well as other wildlife. If we selfishly take away wild plants we should provide for them in other areas, such as parks, public gardens along streams or rivers, anywhere they can be grown. So if you are planting a flower garden or are responsible for public parks and gardens and want to help our native bees, butterflies, and birds choose some of these plants that are both native and needed.


Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer’s daughter and now as a farmer’s wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.