Click to enlarge | Photo: Sarah Coulber, CWF
Canada is home to thousands of identified native plant species, but more than a quarter of them could be lost forever if we don’t play an active role in their conservation. As an essential element of our natural biodiversity, native plants provide an important source of food and shelter for many Canadian species, including at-risk and endangered wildlife. Commercial development, clear-cutting and an ever increasing human population are causing habitats across the country to disappear at an alarming rate.
What are Native Plants?
Native plants are North America’s original flora inhabitants. They have spent thousands of years adapting to Canadian conditions.
Why are They Important?
Native plants have co-evolved with local wildlife, developing defence mechanisms to survive in all kinds of Canadian conditions. As a result, native plants require less maintenance than introduced and exotic plant species. At the same time, Canada’s native animal species have adapted to depend on existing plant life. In fact, some animal species depend entirely on the availability of certain native plants.
What Happens When Native Plants Disappear?
The loss of native plants and native habitat creates an imbalance and has wide-spread, damaging effects on our ecosystems:
- Turning native prairie grasslands into farmland has severely diminished the swift fox’s habitat, resulting in its placement on the endangered list.
- Manitoba prairie skinks are endangered due to the agriculture, urbanization and road construction that have eradicated the mixed grass prairies and sandy soil they survive on.
- The Eastern prickly pear cactus has been listed as endangered partly due to logging, farming, fertilizer and herbicide use, and the collection of the plant for horticultural purposes.
- The destruction of grassy meadows has put the golden paintbrush on the endangered list.
- Since goldenseal has been harvested for medicinal purposes, its numbers have dwindled and this beautiful plant is now threatened. Moreover, it’s losing its habitat because of timber production, urban development and farming.
Making a Difference in Your Own Backyard
Whether your backyard is an apartment balcony, a vast acreage or something in between, there are a number of ways that you can include native plants to create a wildlife-friendly space. Be inspired by CWF’s native plant gardens and visit CWF’s WildAboutGardening.org to get started!
Is your garden already wildlife-friendly? CWF offers Backyard Habitat Certification in recognition of Canadians who provide sustainable habitat for wildlife. Certification is free and allows participants to identify their garden as free of pesticides and meeting wildlife’s four basic needs: food, water, shelter and space.