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Iowa Native Plants : The Key to Biodiversity

30 Mar 2021 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

Queen of the Prairie | Demonstration Garden

The Demonstration Garden features a number of Iowa native plants. Natives are plants that occur naturally within a given area. Some have been around since the last ice age, so they’ve adapted themselves to Iowa’s harsh and changeable climate. Because they’ve survived so long in the wild, they don’t require coddling—which makes them ideal for low-maintenance home landscapes.

Why Highlight Native Plants?

We highlight native flowers for two reasons: Education and Biodiversity

  1. Visitors to the garden don’t know there is such a thing as native plants!
  2. Many experts tell us that native bird species and pollinators (bees, butterflies, and similar) prefer indigenous flowers for their food source. That’s because they evolved along with the native plants and recognize them more readily than hybrids or introductions from other countries. Natives, then, are more beneficial for Iowa’s wildlife.

Why bring natives into home gardens?

  • If native plants survive Iowa’s extreme winters and summers, they’ll most likely flourish in your garden—given the right conditions.
  • They are of great benefit to the local wildlife population.
  • Many are extremely beautiful. Who can forget a grouping of baby-blue Virginia bluebells—or tawny orange butterfly weed—or, to round out the season, native asters?

Here are just a few examples of native flowers at Demonstration Garden

The shady Woodland Garden contains: wild columbine, queen of the prairie, jack in the pulpit, lady fern, dutchman’s breeches, and blue wild phlox, among others. Look for their blooms in early spring.

In the sunny Pollinator Garden, you can find liatris (gayfeather), Joe Pye weed, orange butterfly weed, purple coneflower, brown-eyed susan, and purple aster. Most of these are summer or late summer bloomers.

The Native Grasses garden features native grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem, and prairie dropseed. These need full sun and are at their best in the late summer and fall.

You can add just about any of these to your home garden. Given the right conditions, they’ll flourish—because they’re tough and used to our climate. About the only thing we shouldn’t do with natives is dig them up from the wild. Let’s preserve our heritage for future generations and leave the natives in place. Once they’re gone, it’s very hard for them to re-establish. They can be purchased from many online catalogs and websites.

Visit the Demonstration Garden this year and learn more about native species.

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