By Rachel Braaten
It’s spring! … Wait, it’s still winter. … Now it’s spring again! … Hold on, it snowed again. Okay, now it’s spring. See?! It’s raining! …Oh, it snowed overnight. Eventually, we’re all going to be getting out into our yards and making decisions about what to focus on this year. Pulling weeds, simple maintenance (which is itself a big job), cleaning out gutters, cutting tree branches, and plantings. This article will be about the plantings we choose.
Let’s first talk about the elephant in the room, so we get that out of the way. Most of the plants we find in local garden stores did not evolve here in Minnesota. They are transplants from other continents. Many of them have pretty flowers or interesting leaves. If you have a favorite, or a bunch of favorites of these, far be it from me to tell you to not plant them. What I do want you to be aware of is that most of these plants help our local ecosystem about as much as having a statue. If you enjoy decorating your yard with statues, I wouldn’t complain then, either.
What I would instead like to do is encourage some exploration into the plants that have evolved here. Here in Minnesota, we have some threatened and endangered insects (insects eat plants, for the most part), such as butterflies, and moths. These insects can only eat plants that have evolved here. Also, most bird species are declining in population numbers. AND, what do you think birds eat? Yes, they do often eat seeds and nectar, and robins do eat worms, but the majority of bird diets consist of insects. Our war on insects over the past few generations has really made it hard on birds. So…
What to plant, then!? Let me introduce you to a new term: keystone species. Certain plants actually do more good than others, even if you’re planting natives. Here in Minnesota, we border the Great Plains and the Eastern Temperate Forests, which means we have a great opportunity for diversity. Instead of listing keystone species for you, I will provide links to the National Wildlife Federation’s keystone species list for these two ecoregions.
For the Eastern Temperate Forest keystone species list: https://www.nwf.org/-/media/Documents/PDFs/Garden-for-Wildlife/Keystone-Plants/NWF-GFW-keystoneplant-list-ecoregion-8-eastern-temperate-forests.ashx?la=en&hash=1E180E2E5F2B06EB9ADF28882353B3BC7B3B247D
For the Great Plains keystone species list: https://www.nwf.org/-/media/Documents/PDFs/Garden-for-Wildlife/Keystone-Plants/NWF-GFW-keystone-plant-list-ecoregion-9-great-plains.ashx?la=en&hash=D93EC537B17AF4BEA41B4CC0149413C15A46CC29
AND instead of providing you with a long list of nurseries or native landscaping companies, conveniently, MNDNR has already compiled this list for us, so here’s that link: https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/assistance/backyard/gardens/native_plant/suppliers_central.pdf
P.S. If you’re wanting to get geeky and learn more about endangered or threatened species in Minnesota, here’s a link to that list: https://files.dnr.stat e.mn.us/natural_resources/ets/endlist.pdf