Moore: Planting native brings needed habitat helpers

Editor’s note: This is the May installment of a monthly column written by the city of DeKalb’s Citizens’ Environmental Commission that focuses on increased awareness of issues such as promoting projects and ordinance changes involved in recycling, reducing energy consumption and planting native habitat.

Native plants are plants that develop naturally in the region where they evolved.

A variety of pollinators depend only on native plants for food, laying eggs and providing nectar. Some insects evolved alongside these native plants and local birds that depend on these insects for food. Some may consider using birdfeeders and the right kind of bird food to invite more birds into their yards, but the best way to do that is by introducing a variety of native plants.

These birds provide nectar, fruit, nutritious seeds and a variety of insects that birds need to feed their young. Most native plants attract a variety of butterfly species, and their larvae and caterpillars are an essential part of a bird’s diet.

Prairie dropseed is a grassy plant with fine hairlike leaves. Not only is it food to a variety of moth and butterfly larvae, but shelter for some animals, as well. Its arching leaves create the perfect hiding spot for small animals avoiding predators from above.

Purple prairie clover is a flowering plant in the legume family that attracts multiple species of pollinators and provides food for wildlife. This plant adds nutrients to the soil, helps prevent hillside erosion and is high in protein. Its seeds are consumed by birds and small mammals while its foliage nourishes a wide range of wildlife.

Many types of asclepias, or milkweed, commonly known as butterfly weed, also are native plants sought by monarch butterflies for nectar and as food for their larvae. We have seen a huge decline in the monarch species over the years because of habitat loss. Introducing more milkweed means introducing more of their native habitat.

Most of these native plants can be found in prairies. A prairie is a type of grassland found in areas that receive little rainfall yet support many types of plants.

Naturally, some prairie plants, such as forbs, can grow roots deep enough to reach water and nutrients that prairie grasses cannot. Once established, native plants generally require less upkeep due to their adaptation to the prairie soil conditions.

As a result, prairie plants retain water and stabilize the soil, reducing erosion and flooding. Before European colonization, these prairies made up about two-thirds of the land in Illinois, and then later were mostly converted to agricultural fields.

When we introduce plants from outside of our region, they sometimes can become invasive and overwhelm the native plants. This also is one less plant that the native wildlife can use as food or a home.

In order to restore and preserve these native habitats, we can start planting more native plants and less of the non-native ones. In doing so, we will help re-create functioning ecosystems that support native wildlife and help provide them with the most sustainable habitats.

Please visit the DeKalb Citizens’ Environmental Commission online at For additional information on native trees, please come to our event at 7 p.m. May 19 in the Yusunas Meeting Room at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St. in DeKalb.

• Kyle Moore is a member of the city of DeKalb’s Citizens’ Environmental Commission.