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1404 Goodale Boulevard, Suite 100
Columbus, OH 43212
Phone: (614) 486-9613
Fax: (614) 486-9614

Native Plants

What is a Native Plant?

For many thousands of years before there were humans in Ohio, there were plants! While experts have yet to agree on where to officially draw the line to refer to a plant as "native", we refer to any plant that grew in the state before European Settlement as an Ohio native plant.

An oak tree stands out in a foggy field of grass

Why Are Native Plants Important?

In all the time our native plants have been here, they have evolved alongside animals and other organisms.  All of our wild animals rely on plants in some way, even if they're not using them directly. For example, songbirds feed their young a diet that's almost all insects. One family of chickadees will consume up to 9,000 caterpillars in one summer, and the vast majority of caterpillars are found on native plants that they have evolved to eat! Plant flowers evolved to entice pollinators like bees and butterflies, their leaves to repel herbivores from bison to hungry caterpillars, and their roots to work with fungi, bacteria and microscopic organisms in the soil to capture nutrients, water and even pollutants. All of this relationship-building wound up connecting plants to nearly every other life form in the state- even people! Native Americans in our state knew and still know the plants here quite well, and there is evidence that they even managed the land to increase plant biodiversity. Today native plants are still very useful to us. Their roots can absorb and infiltrate stormwater, reducing incidences of flooding. They can be resilient additions to the landscape since they're adapted to our climate; many are drought resistant. Their power to attract wide ranges of insects can increase pollination of fruits and vegetables, and they host predators that can help bring balance to pest-filled gardens. Native plants are also beautiful! Their flowers come in every color of the rainbow, and you can catch different species blooming all the way from April through early November.
Ohio’s State Wildflower: Large-flowered Trillium. A white three-petaled flower with yellow stamens

Protecting Ohio's Native Plant Legacy

Today many of our populations of native plants are in decline as their habitat
is often destroyed to make room for housing, agriculture and other land development. They also face new competition from invasive plants. Invasive plants are non-native plants that outcompete natives, typically by growing faster and reproducing more prolifically since they don't have any natural predators here to keep them in check. While it's hard for us to notice that there are less native plants, it's much easier to see declines in some of the animals that rely on them. Many species of birds have suffered from this decline. Northern Bobwhite quail used to be prolific throughout Ohio, but their numbers have dwindled as their habitat of thickets and grasslands disappear. 

The good news is that native plants are resilient, and we have the chance to help plant more of them to replace habitat that has been lost! Here at Franklin SWCD we're actively working to help get more native plants in the ground in Franklin County through our programs like: 

  • Community Backyards- This rebate program provides a $50 rebate on the purchase of a native plant (Or rain barrel or compost bin!) after you take a workshop or a quick online course and quiz.
    *NEW in 2023* Businesses can apply for a $2500 rebate to change their landscaping to native plants! 
  • Gardening for Clean Water- Where can you buy a native plant? Which plants at the nursery are the native ones? Visit this webpage to find a list of local nurseries that carry native plants. THEN go to any of the listed nurseries and look on the pots for our Gardening for Clean Water stickers. Hint: Most nurseries seem to have the most native perennials available in May-August. 

  • Our Annual Tree & Plant Sale- There's only one place in Columbus that sells 17,000+ bare-root (baby) native plants during the months of January-March- Our office! Our sale is pre-order only with a pick up event in mid-April. Almost all of our plant sale plants are Ohio natives, although some years we do sell fruit trees and mushroom kits (Because growing food in your yard or local community garden is great for the earth too!)  
  • Annual Milkweed Seed Collection- Each year we accept donations of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seed pods. The seeds are processed and used by the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Intitiative to create new habitat around the state! 

More Resources

  • Native, YES List: Franklin Soil & Water has a short (not comprehensive) list of native plant suggestions that we commonly see for sale in local nurseries. It is not comprehensive and just gets you started with shopping for native plants. Any of these plants listd on the Native, YES List will automatically be approved for a Community Backyards rebate.
  • Ohio Native Plant Month: April is Ohio Native Plant Month, but you can check out this website all year for plant lists, kids' activities and Ohio's State Plants!
  • PlantNative: PlantNative is dedicated to moving native plants and naturescaping into mainstream landscaping practices. This list includes Ohio native trees, shrubs, perennials, and ferns, their sun and soil conditions, size, and a brief description. 
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a great search and filter tool that you can use to find Ohio native plants based on your yard's conditions, desired sizes, colors, bloom times, and more. 
  • Audubon Plants for Birds: Use Audubon's Native Plants for Birds search tool to find plants that benefit specific wildlife! 
  • Midwest Native Plant Society: The Midwest Native Plant Society has resources about native plants that promote wildlife and biodiversity. They also have a pledge and sign program where you can take a pledge and purchase a native plant sign to educate your neighbors about your native plant gardening! 
  • Plant Your Trees Right: You have found your next native tree. Now let's make sure you plant it right so it has the best chance of survival. Check out these tips from Franklin Soil and Water on how to plant your trees right.