Native Plants Week

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Hey everyone, I found out late on Monday that Governor Roy Cooper has signed a proclamation making this week (October 21–27, 2019) Native Plants Week. I wanted to share a few things about native plants that may not be common knowledge.

butterfly weed growing locally in a residential yard in Carteret County.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa L.) growing locally in Carteret County. Photo Credit: Shawn Banks

Some insects have come to depend on certain plants for food. For example, the monarch butterfly that is currently making is migration south for the winter relies on the native butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa L.) to lay its eggs on for the larva to feed on as they grow.

The leaves and berries of wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) can be boiled to remove the wax, which can then be used to make fragrant candles. The berries are a food source for some birds that overwinter in our area. The fragrance of the leaves makes a good addition to potpourri. Also, the plant itself is well adapted to constantly moist soils and can be planted as a hedge or screening plant in those troublesome wet areas.

Photo by Shawn Banks of some longleaf pines in the woods.

Longleaf pines (Pinus palustris). Photo Credit: Shawn Banks

The long needles from the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) is used as pine straw in many landscapes. The sap of the longleaf pine was cooked down to make tar or pitch to seal the hulls of boats, which is also where the term tar heel came from. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker uses cavities in this tree to create its nest because the sap keeps away predators like snakes.

The leaves of the yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) contain caffeine and can be used to make tea. The berries are very pretty and have been used by Native Americans in cleansing rituals. When too many berries are eaten it causes the stomach to purge itself, cleansing the digestive system.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) produces long tubular flowers that have lots of nectar. The flowers are visited by hummingbirds whenever they are in bloom. The show can be quite spectacular early in the morning or late in the evening when the plant is in bloom.

two Sundews and Venus Flytraps by Tom Glasgow.

Sundews and Venus Flytraps. Photo credit: Tom Glasgow

These are only a few of the over 3,900 species of native plants that can be found in our natural areas and have been here since before we began cultivating plants forour landscapes. Some have been cultivated to fit into our landscapes and some are better discovered in the wild. When exploring the Croatan forest one might run across carnivorous plants including yellow pitcherplant (Sarracenia flava), venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) and sundews (Drosera rotundifolia), however, leave these plants where they are as it’s illegal to collect them from the wild. There are places where they can be purchased legally if they are desired in the landscape.

venus flytrap by Tom Glasgow.

Venus Flytrap. Photo credit: Tom Glasgow

For more information on using native plants in the landscape, look for “Managing Backyards and Other Urban Habitats for Birds” and “Butterflies in Your Backyard” and other publications available online or at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Carteret County office.