Celebrating the Native Wildflower


-By Lynsey Grosfield-

When it comes to noticing the beauty of native wildflowers, it’s a case of the maxim, “the slower you go, the bigger your world gets.” Cultivating a sense of appreciation for the form of local plants can come a bit more naturally once their function is understood.

Biomes--local environmental systems--are unbelievably interconnected. The plants, insects, animals, and fungi of an area have all evolved together, and often have mutualistic relationships. This is partly how invasive species can be so disruptive to an ecosystem: the local life web isn’t adapted to dealing with them.

As gardeners, we toil in the landscape to make it more pleasing to our senses: whether that be in growing fragrant, beautiful blossoms, or abundant home-grown produce.

In the flower garden, there are conventional staple plants used to beautify a space, like roses, peonies, irises, tulips, petunias, and begonias. These are the kind of specimens that can be found in almost any greenhouse or garden center and have been cultivated around the world for generations.

These usually aren’t locally-adapted plants, and so they usually require tender loving care to reach their full potential. While there’s nothing wrong with cultivating something a little exotic, there are plants that can flourish with minimal intervention, and nourish the local environment: these plants are your local, native wildflowers.

Planting a wildflower garden--whether it be a lush mini-meadow of deep-rooted prairie plants, an alpine rock garden of mountain natives, or a sandy bed of sturdy coastal-dwelling specimens--takes some research. The rewards, however, are manifold.

All the talk about saving the bees, for example, tends to focus on the honeybee, but there are 20,000 known species of bees around the world. Most of these bees are solitary, and all of them are threatened by a loss of habitat. Local bees love local flowers, and so a garden that is teeming with native wildflowers is a garden that nourishes and helps save the bees.

Bees are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pollinators: butterflies, beetles, moths, wasps, birds, lizards, and bats are all known to pollinate and feed off of blossoms. Native flowers can attract native visitors, and a garden of native plants can become a mini wildlife refuge.

Local garden centers increasingly have native plant sections, and native plant societies exist in virtually every bioregion across the USA. There is abundant information available about wildflowers for every locality.

In planting a garden with careful thought for the local ecosystem, you will learn a great deal about your biome, and cultivate a deeper connection with nature. Suddenly native flowers like the Eastern Bluestar and the swamp milkweed aren’t just pretty blossoms only seen by the side of the road, or in a National Park: they are potential candidates for backyard cultivation that merit a closer inspection.

swamp milkweed

Swamp Milkweed

Once you stop to observe all these interconnected processes of life, your world becomes a lot bigger, and a lot more beautiful.

 - Lynsey Grosfield nature blog


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Lorie Dwyer on March 11 2017 at 01:11PM

I live in the city of Chicago and work in a small town called Burnham at a golf course in a forest preserve I am in charge of planting the flowers and landscaping around the clubhouse in all 18 holes of the golf course last year was my first year I have one particular spot that gets new water full sunshine and has all kinds of deer eating every plant that I plant is there a way I can find out what wild flowers will grow naturally with little maintenance in this area I believe I’m in zone 5. If anybody has any advice please shoot me an e-mail thank you

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