Why are native plants important? 

Native plants are important for so many reasons including pest management, increasing biodiversity, mitigating the loss of habitat from climate change, taking toxins out of our drinking water, enriching soil, reducing erosion, slowing down runoff, cleaning our air, and so much more. Read on to find out on how native plants can increase biodiversity and how you can mitigate the loss of habitat from climate change. This blog will focus on how to create habitats for insects and birds. 

Native Plants & Monarchs 

Research for our restoration site has discovered something interesting about Monarch butterflies. A lot of people plant milkweed to attract monarchs, but in fact milkweeds’ main use is for monarch caterpillars. Milkweed is the only plant Monarchs lay their eggs on and most of this breeding occurs on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. Planting milkweed in these breeding zones is incredibly helpful but in our coastal California zone it can be detrimental. The Native Wildlife Foundation recommends if you live in coastal California not to plant milkweed because it can confuse this fragile species and negatively affect their health. Once monarch butterflies hatch from their cocoon and fly to our overwintering grounds, located at Natural bridges State Park, they can get nectar from a variety of native plant species. If you want to help our beautiful monarchs think of what they need when they overwinter, which is food. Create that little oasis in your yard for them and send them plump and happy on their journey to the mountains to breed. A list of monarch specific natives can be found below. 

Native Plants & Bees 

Insects help do so many cool things. Some help pollinate our plants, some protect our plants, some even eat our plants. When we think of insects and pollinators our mind might wander straight to bees. Now everyone loves bees and many of us are trying desperately to save our struggling friends. A misconception is the more flowers you have the happier the bees, well I am here to tell you that is unfortunately not the case. Native bees do not just like any flower they prefer native blooms. Native bees are 4x more likely to take nectar from a native plant rather than a non-native plant. To show your love for our pollinator friends next time you go to the garden choose a native plant. 

Learn more about California native species that benefit monarch butterflies from the National Wildlife Foundation.

Native Plants & Birds 

Did you know that birds do not just rely on native plants for shelter or food, but their babies lives almost exclusively depend on native plants? Let me further explain this relationship so you grasp just how imperative native plants are to our birds. Native plants have coevolved with insects for millions of years. This coevolution has resulted in native insects being able to get through native plants’ defenses and eat them. Whereas insects have not had time to coevolve with non-native plants so only about 10% of our insect population can eat them. Why does this matter to our bird friends? Because 96% of birds feed their young insects in the Spring. They need 350-570 caterpillars a day to feed their young and where do they find these caterpillars? On our native plants! Native plants create 4x more insect biomass and 35% more caterpillar biomass than a nonnative plant. Birds need native plants to be able to raise their young. You can help feed baby birds not just by putting up a cute feeder but by planting more natives. 

What native plants should you plant? Where can you buy local native plants? 

There are so many wonderful places where you can buy native plants from local gardening stores to more specialized organizations like Central Coast Wilds in Santa Cruz and Grassroots Ecology if you live in Santa Clara County. When shopping, speak to an associate about what native plants are best for your garden. If you would like to do your research beforehand, you can use the calflora website or check out resources from these plant nurseries such as Grassroots Ecology’s book titled San Francisco Bay Area Native Plants for the Garden.

The Coastal Watershed Council purchases all of the native plants for our River Health Days program from Central Coast Wilds located in the San Lorenzo River watershed.

The Short & Sweet  

Native species have evolved with native plants for over 400 million years. They understand each other’s needs and they have figured out how to coexist in harmony together. The more native plants we can plant, the more resources native species have. I hope this blog inspires you to do your part in creating this oasis of resources for our native species. How easy is it to choose that beautiful ceanothus instead of that tropical but detrimental ice plant. Until next time. Happy gardening friends.

Learn more about Santa Cruz County specific native species from our local chapter of the California Native Plant Society

Work Cited 


Volunteer with CWC to Help Native Plants Create an Oasis along the San Lorenzo River

You can help plant and care for native plants along the lower San Lorenzo River every second Saturday of the month.

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