Background for Teachers
Hometown Greenery = Native Plants
Native plants benefit wildlife. They are less expensive and easier to maintain. Native plants are hardy and drought-resistant, so they need little or no water or care. Since these plants are more tolerant of native insects and diseases, they require no chemical treatments and thus are better for the environment.
Native plants attract a variety of wildlife. Some wildlife prefer native plants; while other species are dependent on particular native plants for survival. Hummingbirds, for example, are attracted to tubular flowers like salvia, coral honeysuckle and cardinal flower. You can also attract songbirds to feast on agarita, beautyberry or black cherry trees you have planted. The endangered Golden-cheeked warbler depends on the bark of old growth ash junipers for making its nest.
The best native plants provide both food and shelter for wildlife. In nature, plants grow to different heights and density. These "layers" of habitat allow wildlife to select areas they find most comfortable.
Since native plants attract birds, butterflies and wildlife, native gardens become an outdoor classroom. Children of all ages can learn about birds, small mammals, insects, and plants. The garden becomes an window on the balance of nature, where they will observe interactions, migration, reproduction and predation.
An interesting question biologists face is, what is native? Determining when a plant arrived and established itself to the point that we consider it native is somewhat of a value judgment. In general, if a plant was present before European settlement in Texas, a plant is considered native.
Interested in creating a Texas Wildscape? Texas is losing native habitat at an alarming rate. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department encourages landowners to restore habitat – food, shelter and water – for birds, butterflies, reptiles and even small mammals in their backyards using native plants. There are some wonderful resources on native plants, from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas Wildscapes, the Native Plant Society of Texas and TPWD's plant information database and AgriLife Extension's Wildflowers in Bloom.