Written by Satvik Garapati and Trevor Njonjo
Native or non-native? Can you tell which blooming beauty can harm the environment and which can help? John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge has been monitoring and managing non-native species since its establishment in 1972.
But what is a non-native species? Non-native species are animals or plants that have not existed historically in an area but have been introduced due to human activities. Sometimes they can spread beyond their place of introduction and become invasive species that cause harm.
One of the biggest reasons for introducing certain plants is the beauty they provide, but these non-native plants can escape our gardens and unintentionally damage the environment. The Chinese Wisteria, picture above, is a vine with large, purple flowers that looks great in our yards, but can harm beneficial trees.
The solution is to plant native species instead, like the Trumpet Honeysuckle on the left. They provide food for birds and butterflies like the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird and Monarch Butterfly.
Native plants require are kinder on us humans too. They need less maintenance, water, and fertilizer than non-native species, resulting in more money in your pocket. To find Pennsylvania’s beautiful native plants, you just need to know where to look.
The Audubon Society has a list of native plants on its website. Simply type in your zip code and you will see a list of different plants, which animals they attract, and a list of their attributes.
The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) also has a list of native plant nurseries on its website that can direct you to a nearby nursery to get started on your summer planting. Their plants will be sure to knock your stalks off!
If you want even more information on the plants around you, the iNaturalist mobile app can be used to identify species on the go. Just snap a picture of any plant on your phone and iNaturalist will show a list of possible species.
And for ideas on how to design your own native plant garden, look up Lehigh Gap Nature Center’s Landscaping for Communities and Wildlife resource guide, Native Plants for the Small Yard.
Satvik Garapati and Trevor Njonj are two Drexel University students working at the Refuge through Drexel’s co-op program.