Cindy Meyer, Warren County Soil & Water Conservation District – Conservation Program Specialist
Native plants provide many benefits to us, our natural resources and local ecosystem. These benefits include but are not limited to water conservation, filtering out water pollutants, lowering maintenance requirements, and providing vital habitat for birds and many other species of wildlife.
Many folks have heard of the invasive Bush honeysuckle (other names include tartarian, Morrow’s honeysuckle and Amur honeysuckle). This plant can be found everywhere in Warren County and in many parts of Ohio and beyond. Some interesting research (Rodewald et. al.) that came out several years ago identifies this plant as a junk food of sorts for wildlife and specifically looks at the northern cardinal and the effects that honeysuckle has on the species. Birds such as cardinals (flamingos too) get their coloring from the carotenoids in the foods that they eat. In the cardinal’s case, honeysuckle berries help to promote the redness of the cardinal. In the study, honeysuckle was found to reduce the usefulness of plumage brightness as a signal of male quality for cardinals in urban forests. In other words, females were attracted to the bright red plumage of the cardinals that were sadly so-so mates.
This research gives good reason to look at natives when looking to add more plants to your landscape. There are many great plants out there and I would encourage you to check out your local nurseries to see what is available. The Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District also has their spring tree sale, which includes some native species. You can check it out at https://www.warrenswcd.com/. This sale offers small affordable trees and shrubs that can help to build your native plant collections.
One particular native that is listed in the sale catalog is spicebush or Lindera benzoin. I first became familiar with spicebush while working in northern Ohio almost two decades ago. The leaves and twigs smell spicy when they are rubbed or crushed, which lends to the plants common name, can be used to make a tea. This plant is found throughout most of the Eastern United States and is fast-growing. It enjoys moist, partially-shaded sites. Currently, there are no serious diseases or insect problems – score two-points for spicebush!
Another big plus for the shrub is that it serves as a larval host for the magnificent spicebush swallowtail, eastern tiger swallowtail and the promethea silkmoth! This plant is a perennial, deciduous shrub. It can reach up to approximately 12’ tall and has bright red berries that serve as a high energy food source for birds. This plant is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are on separate plants and therefore a male pollinator is needed in order for the plant to set fruit on the female plant.
For information on the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District annual plant sale go to https://www.warrenswcd.com/. If you have additional questions, please contact the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation office at 513-695-1337