Planting with Natives Supports Biodiversity

by Victoria Wittig, Project Coordinator, Save the Dunes

Gardening is such a joy in so many ways… A garden can become an artist’s palette painted with the hues, tones and shapes of the plants that bring the landscape to life. It’s a place to unwind and reconnect with soil that nurtures growth, seeds that bring new possibilities and plants that enrich our lives with serene greenery, beautiful blooms and rejuvenating aromas. Gardens are also where families may plant their roots for bright futures. Being outside in a family garden away from technology, distractions and stresses offers precious moments for togetherness; the garden grows as a part of the family.

At Save the Dunes, we invite you to celebrate your home garden by considering an often overlooked, yet tremendous opportunity – creating a native garden that supports biodiversity in our Indiana dunes region. But what is biodiversity and why is your garden a potential oasis?

Our Earth is unique in the cosmos in that it supports such an incredible diversity of life forms; i.e. biodiversity. Ecosystems that cover the earth are each comprised of communities of plants and animals that thrive in that spot – they are the native species that belong there! Native species have adapted through the ages to match their lifecycles to the timing of seasons, temperature and precipitation gradients, nutrient availability, soil type, and interactions with other species. Natural ecosystems are a mosaic of native communities painted perfectly on the Earth’s landscape.

Unfortunately, increasing pressures from habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, climate change and many other challenges are threatening the Earth’s biodiversity (Ceballos et al., 2015 & 2017; Steffen et al., 2015). Scientists now warn that the sixth mass extinction of species on our planet is underway (Ceballos et al., 2015; Ripple et al., 2017) and unlike the earlier extinctions, this one is being driven by a fellow earthling – us! But hope is not lost. Because we are the drivers of this extinction event, we are also the key to preserving, protecting and restoring our collective biodiversity.

Indeed, one of the most significant impacts we can make as members of our ecological community is to understand the nature of the environment right outside our doorstep and build our lifestyles in such a way that we exist in harmony with our natural community-people, plants and animals included. One of the easiest and most rewarding ways to become a steward of our biodiversity is by choosing to plant natives in our gardens.

Just imagine if the homes in our communities were rich oases for biodiversity at the landscape level. In Northwest Indiana, we have the great honor of being surrounded by some of the most diverse ecosystems in the United States. We each, therefore, have an incredible opportunity to enhance the resilience of the life-supporting ecosystem services our region provides including pollination, water and air filtration, nutrient cycling, soil stabilization, flood control, and more.

As if it couldn’t get any better, planting gardens rich in native flora eliminates the need for fertilizer, synthetic pesticides, watering, and mulching. This not only saves hard-earned money, but it is also healthier for our environment. We at Save the Dunes hope that you cannot wait to begin adding natives to your gardens and offer a few resources to help get you started:

Download our “Living in the Dunes Guide” guide to identify your ecosystem type, access recommended native plants, garden designs and identify invasive species of concern.

Another great resource for lists of native plants is available from the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS).

Excellent pollinator-specific planting resources are available through the Pollinator Partnership.

References:

Ceballos et al., (2015) “Accelerated modern human-induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction.” Science Advances

Ceballos et al., (2017) “Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Steffen et al., (2017) “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet.” Science

Ripple et al., (2017) “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A second notice.” BioScience

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Our Living in the Dunes Outreach Program was made possible by a grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Lake Michigan Coastal Program.

NOAA