Native plants are those that occur naturally in an area. They have adapted to survive in a
particular geographic area’s climate, soils, rainfall, and with the available pollinators and seed
dispersers. Because they are indigenous to our region, Arkansas’s native plants usually tolerate
natural cycles of drought and rain and are welcomed by wildlife, serving an important role in
the local ecosystem.
Our native birds and other wildlife have adapted to the resources provided by Arkansas’s native
plants. They provide the leaves, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds, and nuts that wildlife require to
survive and thrive. Crucially, native plants host the insects that birds need. Ninety percent of all
insects are specialized, meaning they share an evolutionary history with native plants and rely
on them to survive. Think Monarchs and milkweeds. Almost all land birds require insects to
feed their young. Even seed-eating birds, such as Northern Cardinals, feed their babies insects
to ensure their survival. Many insects cannot adapt to eating non-native plants. Fewer native
plants means fewer insects, which in turn means fewer baby birds growing to adulthood.
In contrast, lawns are made of only one or a few types of plants that most animals do not
consume, so they do not provide much value for wildlife. Lawns require a lot of water,
chemicals, and mowing to maintain. Replacing lawns with native wildflowers, bushes, and trees
provides the food, shelter, and cover that help maintain healthy, natural ecosystems.
Not all non-native, ornamental plants are bad for wildlife. Some even provide valuable
resources. However, others are highly invasive, vigorously growing and spreading, escaping
from gardens, and displacing native plants in both urban and natural areas. These should be
removed and kept at bay to the best of your ability. Chinese privet, Japanese honeysuckle,
Chinese wisteria, nandina/sacred bamboo, Bradford pear, and Johnsongrass are among the
worst. Herbicides are a valuable tool when used properly.