Monday, March 28, 2011

Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat & Conservation Landscaping-Chesapeake Bay Watershed / Britt Slattery, et al -- MD: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2003

There are a lot of very good reasons to remove invasive plants -- particularly non-native invasives -- and replace them with less aggressive native plants. Most important is the ability of a variety of native plants to support the local wildlife, but also important is their ability to improve the soil quality by sinking deep roots that aerate the top soil and add organic matter. Deep rooted plants are also far better at retaining water and in urban and suburban areas, this is critical for reducing the destructive, polluting, storm water runoff that is killing our streams rivers, and bays.

However, identifying the right native plant is not always easy. Fortunately for those of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published a handy catalog of hundreds of native plants: ferns, grasses, herbaceous plants, herbaceous emergents, shrubs, and trees. For each (or almost each) plant, the guide provides basic information to help you decide if the plant is right for you.

The guide identifies the basic characteristics of the plant: size, colors of its flowers, leaves, and fruit, as well as the time of the year when it flowers and fruits. It also provides basic information about its optimal growth conditions: sun, shade, and partial shade; but also soil pH and soil conditions: clay, loam, sand, or organic. It even provides an indication of the ideal habitat and geographic region within the watershed to help ensure that its nativity is reasonably local. For anyone particularly interested in attracting wildlife to your garden, it indicates how attractive the plant is to song birds, water fowl, small mammals, butterflies, beneficial insects, and hummingbirds.

The authors point out, of course, that the Chesapeake Bay contains many more native plants than are included in this catalog, and encourage the reader to seek out other sources to learn about those plants outside of their selection. The encouragement isn't necessary, though, as one's appetite for more information about native plants is whetted by the guide's clear presentation alone.

Perhaps the only weakness is the size of the photographs. While it is great to have photos of each plant, the photos are tiny and there is only one (sometimes two) for each plant, sometimes showing fruit, leaves, or blossoms, but seldom more than one of the characteristics. Consequently, using the book in conjunction with other reference sources amplifies its value, but regardless of this drawback, it is an extremely helpful starting point for learning about what native plants will grow well in your garden.

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