Native plants are an essential element of the Midwest ecosystem, fulfilling needs beneficial to our homes and businesses’ landscapes as well as the entire planet.
The ancient grasslands that once stretched across Missouri and Kansas were incredibly rich in biodiversity, serving as natural powerhouse systems for carbon storage, air quality control, and stormwater management. Today, only small remnants remain of these misunderstood ecosystems. The varied plants that grew within these grasslands have dwindled in numbers over the years, but many of the plant types still exist; not only that, they can also be excellent additions to most any landscaping project.
Benefits of Using Native Plants in Landscape Design
Native plants are the ultimate, low-maintenance choice for most any landscape or garden design project. Since the Midwest environment is where they initially evolved, they still tend to naturally thrive in Kansas City. These plants require virtually no fertilizer or pesticides and, as an added bonus, they require much less water than most modern-day plant varieties and as well as most lawns.
What’s more, since most native plants have descended from the plants of dry prairies and sun-washed grasslands, they also tend to have deep-reaching root systems, which makes them hardier than most plants and a great tool for preventing soil erosion. Including native plants in a landscape plan also provides food and shelter for butterflies, insects, birds, and other wildlife whose survival is dependent on these plants.
Deep Roots KC, is a local organization that works to encourage the appreciation, conservation, and use of native plants in Kansas City landscape design. Doug Tallamy, a contributor to Deep Roots, an entomologist, and an expert on wildlife and biodiversity, provides an excellent example of how the plant lifecycle works. A native oak tree easily supports hundreds of different species of caterpillars, caterpillars that the local songbird population heavily depends on for sustenance. A decorative ginkgo tree supports zero caterpillars. To raise just one nest of songbirds requires upwards of 6,000 caterpillars. It makes it easy to visualize just how beneficial a specific native plant can be to the environment. (Source)
Further Support for Midwest Biodiversity
Deep Roots KC, mentioned above, began as a group of eco-conscious members of the Westport Garden Club back in 2014. The group was inspired in their mission by Doug Ladd (the Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy in Missouri). The group took up Doug’s mantle to help protect what was, at the time, one of the most depleted, heavily threatened, and least conserved of the world’s ecosystems – the Midwest prairie. Through multi-sector partnerships, educational programs, collaborations, and hands-on work facilitating the planting of regenerative native landscapes, Deep Roots KC worked – and continues to work – to help conserve and revive the richly-diverse native grasslands of the Midwest
The Deep Roots KC website is a treasure-trove of helpful resources. From a native-plants glossary to an extensive video library covering a wide variety of conservation topics, to native-plant virtual seminars and how-to videos covering garden maintenance and pollinator habitat creation, there are resources that address almost every topic associated with native plants.
Upcoming events hosted by Deep Roots KC:
- September 8th, 2022 – Native Plants at Noon: A tour of the native plants growing at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center.
- September 12th-16th, 2022 – Plan It Native Conference: 20+ live interactive sessions, keynote speakers, expert landscaping advice – and much more – spread over 5 days at multiple locations, with both in-person and virtual formats.
Missouri Prairie Foundation
The Missouri Prairie Foundation, MPF, is a private, non-profit prairie conservation organization and land trust governed by a volunteer board of directors that was founded in 1966. The group’s ultimate mission is the permanent protection of prairie habitats and in educating the public on the role of native grasslands in wildlife conservation, energy security, and carbon storage. Currently, the MPF owns and/or manages over 4,300 acres of native grasslands.
Beyond acquiring and managing the collection of original prairie remnants, the MPF also works to restore and reconstruct additional land plots into flourishing native grasslands. The MPF actively supports prairie research; wildlife-friendly land use policies for grasslands; and state, regional, and national conservation initiatives. Like Deep Roots KC, the MPF also hosts interesting events and seminars that are an excellent way to learn more about prairies as natural ecosystems, as well as ways to incorporate native plants into home-landscape and garden designs.
Upcoming events hosted by MPF:
- August 17th, 2022 – Grow Native! Master Class: Growing Native Edibles for Food Production with Nadia Navarrete-Tindall
- August 27th, 2022 – MPF’s Virtual Dinner: Celebration of prairies with prize drawings, guest speakers, and a silent auction.
- August 31st, 2022 – Grow Native! Webinar: Touched by Butterflies: Ecological Education in the Roston Native Butterfly House
- September 17th, 2022 – Kansas City Native Plant Sale at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center
Implementing Native Plants in Landscape Design
Adding a few native plants around your home, or even completely reconstructing your landscaping into an oasis of native Midwestern plantings, is well within the Heinen landscape team’s wheelhouse! Beyond native plant attributes as robust, low-maintenance landscape additions, these plantings can also be used to address environmental issues your property may struggle with. For example, property areas with too much sun exposure can be filled with sunlight-loving native plants, and property areas with rainfall drainage issues can be mediated with native plants that are natural water-absorbing powerhouses.
Small or large, the scale of any of these projects doesn’t deter the Heinen team. The Heinen crew completed a land reclamation project in Mission Hills when a neighborhood pond was experiencing unprecedented erosion problems and extreme algae overgrowth. After redepositing healthy soil along the bank, the Heinen landscape pros planted a range of native plants and grasses to help stabilize the shoreline. The plantings were chosen for their deep and sturdy root systems and their natural ability to help the pond maintain a steady pH balance without the use of chemical treatments. Learn more about the land reclamation project here!
Curious to bring native plantings into your own landscape’s ecosystem? A good place to research various native plants is within Heinen’s free Online Plant Catalog, a resource that features dozens of native flowers, shrubs, ground coverage plantings, trees, and much more along with helpful information about each plant. If you’d like to take a close-up look at a wide variety of thriving native plants in their natural environment, try visiting one or more local nature escapes around the city, such as Powell Gardens or the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center.