Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

Planting native species of trees benefits wildlife

By Julie Johnston, Jefferson County Master Gardener | May 02, 2018

NOTE: The Jefferson County Master Gardeners are providing a monthly column, named “Dear Iris,” for The Fairfield Ledger readers.

Readers’ questions can be sent to The Ledger at PO Box 110, Fairfield 52556, emailed to lifestyles@ffledger.com or dropped off at the office, 114 E. Broadway. Include your name and contact information in case the Master Gardeners need more information.

For information about the Jefferson County Master Gardeners, call the Jefferson County ISU Extension office at 472-4166.


Are you wondering what kind of tree to plant to replace your Ash tree(s)? There are so many kinds, and many are beautiful and suitable for growing here.

Have you considered the fact that many of the trees you might want, to provide not only shade, but a decorative element as well, are not native to Iowa, or even to southeast Iowa? Or North America for that matter. Hint: if the name includes a foreign country, it is not native! Does that matter, you ask?

Well, frankly speaking, yes, it matters. It matters greatly if we want to ensure that our great-grandchildren and beyond will be able to witness the beauty of a specific bird or butterfly or other wildlife which depend on native species for their existence. Butterfly larvae will not eat exotic plants, and without their native host plant they will not remain long on this earth. There are other insects as well that depend on a native source for their food.

There was more than prairie grass here when white men came from Europe. There were trees also, and we would do well to plant more of the native ones. Also, the introduction of exotic species has brought about its own set of problems. An example of this is the Emerald Ash Borer, which came from China. Another is the Chestnut blight which virtually decimated the forests of the Eastern U.S.

I recently learned of an excellent book called, “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy. Tallamy says we need to restore native plants to our urban ecosystems, including trees. I agree wholeheartedly. There are more than 5,000 plants that have been introduced, and many of them are invasive, choking out native species.

Tallamy lists in Appendix One the native plants of the Midwest and Eastern Great Plains, which includes Iowa and surrounding states. Listed, in addition to shade and specimen trees, are conifers, shrub and understory trees, vines, ground covers, streamside plants, herbaceous perennials for dry and wet sites, and grasses, sedges and rushes. There are 35 different shade trees, so you have a pretty wide choice of what to plant in your yard.

Tallamy lists as shade trees, native for us, most varieties of Oak, Birch, and maple (not Norway) as well as Hickory, Black and Honey Locust, Beech, Butternut, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Black Walnut, Tulip Tree, Mulberry, American Elm, Aspen, Cottonwood, Sycamore and more. And then there are the understory trees. And conifers.

My first choice for the yard would be Oak. Did you know that an oak will support 534 species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies, of which there are 11,500 North American species)? Lepidoptera represent over 50 percent of all insect herbivores, so using them as a barometer is practical. If you have a tree that supports hundreds of insects, so, too, will it support numerous species of birds, and on up the food chain.

To replace your Ash trees, I would urge you to do some homework and discover what native trees would best be suitable to plant in your yard, then convince the nursery industry to provide them instead of alien varieties.

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