One week ago today was the 50th Anniversary of the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts are lasting results of that first Earth Day! Yet much more remains to be done, and it can’t happen on just one day of the year. Earth Day reminds us that every day is Earth Day.
As gardeners and stewards and of our immediate environment, we are already making a difference in our own backyards and communities. As we explore and connect with nature each day, we are establishing a care ethic to make positive decisions for the environment, present and future.
Support biodiversity at home
This year, Earth Day recognized the enormous challenges – and vast opportunities – of climate action. So, what better place to start climate actions than in our native prairie gardens? Native prairie gardens are – by their very nature – pollinator gardens. They attract an abundance of pollinators (and other small creatures as well) throughout the growing season. In so doing, they help conserve biodiversity, protect species threatened by climate change, and restore ecosystem balance.
But native gardens do so much more to mitigate climate change. They hold and conserve water, store carbon in extensive root systems, build fertile soils, and help maintain cleaner air. In tending native gardens, we benefit as well by experiencing beauty, joy, and a sense of well-being.
Pollinator Garden Resources
You can celebrate Earth Day every day by joining Earth Day 2020’s campaign to Protect Our Species. Because the Monarch butterfly is currently vulnerable and declining, it is one of ten species directing the Earth Day Network’s conservation efforts in 2020. Earth Day 2020 provides an informative Pollinator Garden Toolkit, and Pollinator Garden Worksheetto help you plan or add to your pollinator garden.
Then, attend the online FloraKansas Native Plant Festival, with its large selection of hearty, native flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs suitable for a diversity of habitats. If you have questions, FloraKansas has experts available too!
Connect to the broader community
Last, but not least, invite your neighbors, friends and family to join you in your efforts to create pollinator-friendly spaces. Garden by garden, we can create a mosaic of native habitats that benefit a broader community of both pollinators AND people!
Photo: A native metallic green sweat bee Agapostemon sp gathering pollen from wavy-leaf false dandelion Microseris cuspidata. (Lorna Harder photo taken 20 Apr 2020)
Today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. For a half century, April 22 has been a day when we celebrate a connection with our planet and pause to think about how we can be better earth stewards. I would like to state the case for having native plants be central to this stewardship focus.
Earth Day in 1970 mobilized 20 million Americans to unify in support of environmental protection. The energy of this movement led to a greater awareness of and protection for natural elements important to humans, including clean air (Clean Air Act of 1970), clean water (Clean Water Act of 1972) and biological diversity (Endangered Species Act of 1973).
Native plants and their ecosystems are closely connected to the health of air, water, and biological diversity. Native plants photosynthesize, produce oxygen and sink atmospheric carbon. Native plants buffer streams, hold soil, and filter moving water. Native plants provide food and habitat for wildlife of all kinds. For the more than one billion people that will recognize Earth Day around the world today, celebrating native plants could easily be central to this celebration.
So, to celebrate the 50th Earth Day, I would like to recognize some of the spring-blooming native plants that are hitting their stride in my home landscape right now.
Spring blooming wildflowers offer the first signs of hope after a long winter. In late winter/early spring, they bait us with anticipation, even when nighttime temperatures regularly dip below freezing and cold winds are not yet inviting us to be outside. Their root systems receive messages from increasing hours of daylight and higher average temperatures. Their green shoots break dormancy and emerge as if they are responding to cheerful invitations of the robins, repeatedly calling “cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o”.
That was the scene in my yard in early March. Fast forward now to mid April through more than a month of pandemic isolation. While I’m captive at home, the need for hope and beauty seems ever greater and the following spring blooming wildflowers are answering the call.
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
Wild ginger is a creeping wildflower that creates growing ground cover colonies. The roots of the plant smell like ginger. Their heart-shaped close-to-the-ground leaves may be less than striking, but the hidden flowers of wild ginger (pollinated by beetles, flies and ants) are worth the search.
Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
The Greek meaning of the word phlox refers to the intense floral color which is evident once you see woodland phlox in bloom. The plant will form a spreading colony. It does surprisingly well in Kansas if you can find a protected place for it. The fragrant and showy flowers attract butterflies, hummingbird moths, and hummingbirds.
Roundleaf Ragwort (Packera obovata)
Once established, roundleaf ragwort establishes a creeping colony and is one of the earliest bloomers in the spring. Roundleaf ragwort flowers attract butterflies, bees, and bumblebees. With an evergreen leaf throughout all seasons, this species offers year-round interest without being invasive to the detriment of surrounding plants.
Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica)
Pennsylvania sedge is commonly found in the dry to dry-mesic understory of oak-hickory woodlands. It is a nice landscaping choice for a dry, shady yard location in Kansas. While they certainly do resemble grasses in their appearance, sedges, characterized by their triangular stem (“sedges have edges”) are in a family all their own.
Columbine ‘Pink Lanterns’ (Aquilegia canadensis)
Columbine is easy to establish in partial sun to full shade conditions and its flowers attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. The name is in reference to a couple of birds. The genus name Aquilegia is derived from a combination of the Latin word “aquila” (meaning eagle for the five spurs resembling an eagle claw) and the Latin word for “columba” (meaning dove, for five doves nestled together). This pink version of Aquilegia canadensis was actually discovered in Marion County, Kansas by Dyck Arboretum of the Plains!
Spring Bloomers in Your Landscape
Many spring blooming wildflowers are native to woodland understories. Such woodland understories historically would have only been native to Eastern Kansas. Today, urban tree canopies and the north side of fences, garages, and houses all provide great shady habitat to plant spring woodland bloomers like those featured in our FloraKansas plant sale Spring Woodland Kit.
But you certainly don’t need to stop with the species in this kit. See a previous blog post (Spring-Blooming Prairie and Woodland Plants) featuring additional spring bloomers that you might consider for shady or sunny areas.
Celebrate Earth Day with me. Consider participating in the rewarding ritual of native plant gardening and make every day Earth Day.