Chicagoland used to be a vast prairie buzzing with life and supporting thousands of species of insects, birds, and other animals. As the area was developed and farmed, the landscape became fragmented, leading to the demise of many animal and plant populations. A recent—and very much publicized—effect has been the decline of the monarch butterfly, an insect that migrates annually from Mexico to Canada, spending a lot of time in the Midwest along the way.
Although this information can be discouraging, there are easy and specific things everyone can do to help out the monarch butterfly and other native pollinators. One action you can take is to beautify your yard: plant native plants, especially milkweeds, in your garden or in containers on your porch or balcony. You can also work with institutions that are a part of your everyday life, like schools and places of worship, to add native species to their gardens. Native plants are ones that are found naturally in a given region and evolved over thousands of years to the conditions that surround them. In turn, the animals that depend on them evolved with them.
So, why give native plants a helping hand? Here are just a few reasons to incorporate them into your open spaces:
They provide a home and food source for a variety of butterflies, including monarchs, and other insects. As native plants attract more pollinators, you’ll begin seeing even more beautiful blooms.
They’re low maintenance. Native plants require a lot less water and pampering than non-native plants. Prairie plants have evolved to deal with the summer heat and drought, and their roots are strong. They don’t need fertilizer, saving you money and keeping excess nutrients out of our waters.
They give back. Native plants are good for your health and the environment. Native gardens are able to absorb a lot more storm water (keeping it out of your basement) and improve air quality. They support good soil quality and help prevent erosion.
They are simply beautiful. Native plants come in all colors, shapes, and heights so it is easy to integrate them into an existing garden or design a new space. You might even know a couple of them, like the black-eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and the purple blazing star (Liatris).
They connect us to the natural world. Having native plants in our own living spaces allows us to get in touch with our roots and realize that nature is right here in our own backyards. They show us that cities and nature can work together. They’re also a great way to foster conversations about our natural habitat and pay tribute to our natural heritage.
At The Field Museum, we hope to lead by example. When you visit this spring, you’ll notice the early stages of a transformation happening just outside the building. Over the last few months, we have been busy putting in the Rice Native Plant Gardens around our campus, and we hope to welcome more monarch butterflies stopping by. To spot monarchs in your own native plants garden, use this easy guide to identify the monarch butterfly, the milkweeds that are its host plants, and other plants you can put in your garden. Learn more about how to get started and grow your own native garden.