Landscaping and Restoration Using Illinois Native Plant Species

mainIllinois native plants are those plants that were present prior to European settlement, in contrast to exotic or alien plants that were introduced from other regions. These native plants have thrived on their own for thousands of years because they are well-adapted to extreme Midwest conditions. The Midwest once was covered with a native flora that provided a continuous succession of expansive blooms throughout the growing season. Diverse habitats occurred including many prairies, woodlands and wetlands that provided food and homes for a wide range of animals. Most of these original habitats have been replaced by cropland or urban sprawl, and currently only small scattered remnants of these original habitats remain. Gardening with native plants can help restore these habitats while providing unique and interesting plants to our landscapes.

Use of Illinois native plants in landscaping can provide many benefits. One such benefit is that native plants will save the gardener time and money, while being environmentally friendly. Once established (2 - 3 years), native plants will require less water, fertilizer and pesticides than introduced plants. Thus, chemical runoff from your garden is reduced resulting in less water pollution. In addition, beneficial insects are not killed by pesticides commonly used in gardens. Most native plants are carefree and long-lived far outlasting the more traditional species commonly used in landscaping.

A second benefit is that different species of native plants can meet a variety of horticultural needs in garden situations. Species are available with adaptations for various microclimates including sunny or shady, wet or dry, and sand or clay. Native plants also exist in a variety of habits commonly used in home landscapes including trees, shrubs, vines and herbaceous perennials. Native species can provide appeal in all four seasons with beautiful flowers, shade, changing foliage color, attractive fruits, evergreen traits, and winter interest. Many natives attract desirable wildlife. They also can provide plant materials for both fresh cut and dry floral arrangements. Native plants can be used alone in garden beds or in combination with traditional horticultural favorites. Some native species or their cultivated forms already are popular with gardeners. Hence, they truly can fulfill any horticultural need!

A third benefit is that gardening with native plants can help restore our natural heritage while providing a unique selection of landscape plants. Native plants are less apt to become invasive than exotic or alien species. Invasive species spread into natural areas where they out compete and eliminate native plant species. Nearly 50% of invasive plant species in the U.S. were introduced via gardeners. Gardens with native plants can help bridge the distance between the remaining scattered patches of natural areas, which increases the chance of survival for songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies and other native animals who depend on native plant species for food and shelter.

Additional information can be obtained from native plant nurseries that specialize in or have an extensive selection of native species, from websites of other groups with interests in native plants, from workshops, and from numerous reference books. Also, several locations can be visited to view landscapes using native plants.

Contact Information

Department of Biological Sciences
Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL 61920
Janice Coons -
Nancy Coutant -