Going Native (with plants that is)
Illinois’ official nick-name is “The Prairie State”. For every 1000 acres of native prairies existing before the year 1800 only 1 acre remains now. With the loss of all these meadow flowers, native pollinators (butterflies, moths, and bees) have gone into steep declines as have wild birds and mammals that used these plants for food and habitat.
Native plants are adapted to Illinois soils and our “varied” climate. They have been growing in our area for the past 13,000 years since the last glacier retreated. Native plants have deep roots (some go down to 15 feet) that allow them to survive harsh winters, prairie fires, and droughts. Their roots also help break up the soil allowing rainwater to penetrate into the ground rather than flooding our yards, basements, and sewers. Because of their deep roots, native plants do not need to be watered regularly or at all. Also because of their greater underground root-mass, native perennials sequester more carbon dioxide underground than annual plants. Lastly, native meadow plants tend to grow into tight clumps which prevent weed seed from germinating.
There is a native species of plant, shrub, grass, rush, or tree for almost any condition in your landscape; including soils from dry to wet and any degree of light from deep shade to full sun. Native shrubs are frequently overlooked. Non-native shrubs are very common, but natives such as dogwood, witch hazel, chokeberry, spicebush, and elderberry can be striking and feed native wildlife well.
Although the gardening season is winding down, there is still time to plant early Spring bloomers, such as jack-in-the-pulpit, wild hyacinth, Virginia bluebells, mayapple, trout lily, and trillium; which are especially important for native bees which emerge in Spring. Below you can find sites that list which native plants will support the greatest number of butterflies and moth caterpillars and adults.