Wildflowers Ain't What They Used To Be!
Well, why not?
Before European settlement, all wildflowers were native wildflowers (or at least 99%). When Europeans settled they brought along their indigenous plants with them because you love what you know. Historically they used European wildflowers to develop their cuisine and hone their medicine skills. This makes sense because it takes a lot of trial and error, that at best leads to stomach discomfort and at worst death, to figure out what you can eat for sustenance and what works to cure certain ailments. All of this institutional knowledge is largely out the window when colonizing the new world unless you bring your knowledge with you, which is why many European plants arrived on the scene during this period. They also arrived through the use of ornamental European wildflowers for ascetic purposes, even through today in the nursery industry.
At the same time as European settlement ramped up, we began to farm larger and larger parcels of land, which conversely lead to more and more losses of the New World's wildflowers. The opening up and disturbance of agricultural lands lead to the colonization of native and European weeds. Some of these weeds are now called wildflowers, which may be beautiful, but are not the most desirable in terms of ecology and sustaining the human race into the future. Some other European wildflowers just found that they can tolerate the similar climate across the pond and they are beautiful so the proliferated through human cultivation.
But Nick they are so pretty, can't I have them.... Well, you should be aware that they are not native so they do not support the local ecology and wildlife nearly as well (or not at all and many are destructive) as the native wildflowers do. Many of these non-native wildflowers turn into invasive species because they do not have natural predators to keep them in check. They can sit for decades and all the sudden mother nature turn on a switch and they begin to reproduce like crazy and spread life wildfire. This has also happened with so-called "sterile" cultivars of these plants. Without natural predators keeping them in check, they run rampant in native natural areas displacing native species further upsetting the natural balance sometimes to the point of extinction or local
Well, you should be aware that they are not native so they do not support the local ecology and wildlife nearly as well as the native wildflowers do. Many of these non-native wildflowers turn into problematic invasive species because they do not have natural predators to keep them in check. They can sit for decades and all the sudden mother nature turn on a switch and they begin to reproduce like crazy and spread like wildfire. This has also happened time and time again with so-called "sterile" cultivars of non-native nursery plants. Without natural predators keeping them in check, they run rampant in native natural areas displacing native species further upsetting the natural balance sometimes to the point of extinction or local extirpation of species or ecosystems.
So when you are considering choosing "wildflowers" for your yard to help out the birds and the bees, make sure your purchasing native wildflowers. What does "native" mean? Well, this definition is different for many people. For our purposes, this means a plant that was indigenous at the time of European settlement. We use this presettlement period as the last substantially intact natural ecosystem that we can reference.
Why are native plants or native wildflowers (these terms are exchangeable for this post) so important? They provide ecosystem services for use humans far and above their non-native counterparts. Basically, they work with the local ecology instead of against it. The native wildflowers have coevolved with the local climate and wildlife forging a beneficial symbiotic relationship. For us, some of the basic ecosystem services true native plants provide are clean air and water, pollination of our food, and forming a livable atmosphere that surrounds us. Pretty important eh?
Since we have lost most of our native wildflowers in the midwest through development and agriculture, it is important that we put back the true native species so that we can recoup some of these life-sustaining ecosystem services. This will enable us and our offspring to live fruitful lives into the future.
Natural Communities does not sell cultivars or nativars, which also cause unintended harm. This is another discussion for another day :) We only sell true native species that are indigenous to the midwest. Even finer than that, nearly every single plant we sell is native to the Chicagoland area.
We hope you now understand that it is critically important to plant native species over so-called "wildflowers". Make sure you are buying your native plants from a reputable source.
Plant native, plant many, plant often!!!!!
Chief Ecological Officer
Natural Communities Native Plants