Native plants perform many ecosystem services. These plants are adapted to our climate, and have often co-evolved with specific insect species. They attract the insects that we rely on to pollinate certain food crops, and that feed the birds we love to watch. The varied root systems of our native plants, some which extend more than 10 feet into the earth, help capture and clean our water. These extensive roots also can bring essential minerals to the soil surface as they support the incredibly diverse and abundant microbial life that thrives in a healthy soil. Soil microbes, along with many of the insects you'll find in a native planting, are essential to decomposition and the recycling of nutrients in an ecosystem. Bottom line--the more native plants in your schoolyard or backyard ecosystem, the healthier it is likely to be!
Native landscaping is simply landscaping with these native plants that have been found in our area for thousands of years. There is so much to learn about the burgeoning field of native landscaping. You may have heard that these plants look messy or weedy, and wonder if there are native plants that can be used for a formal garden. Or maybe you want to attract hummingbirds, and want a specific plant list for that. Check out the "Community Resources" page to help answer questions like these.
As communities have developed over the years, more and more asphalt, concrete, and turf grass has covered our ground. These materials don't absorb water well or at all (yes, even turf grass!), and have contributed to increased overflows of our storm sewers and the clogging of natural waterways with eroded soil sediment and pollution.
This problem is so significant that the Metropolitan Sewer District, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment collaborated to create Project Clear. Project Clear includes provisions for new construction projects, like IGNITE, to include stormwater mitigation best practices in their plans. Go to https://www.projectclearstl.org/about/ to find out more about MSD's Project Clear.
Rain Gardens may be the most well-know storm water mitigation practice in our area, using a dug-out basin filled with a porous soil mix and native plants that can withstand wet to dry conditions. Rain gardens absorb storm water, trap sediment, and filter pollutants--no wonder they are becoming so widely used! Bioswales are another technique we are taking advantage of at Tillman. A bioswale is a depressed, ditch-like area that will direct stormwater. Our bioswales at Tillman are graded so that the water will meander through them to the rain garden. The largest one is planted with wet-adapted plants in the bottom of the depression, and dryer-loving plants on the side. Our dry creek bed, along the parking lot edge, is yet another bioswale. Not only will it collect and filter stormwater, it will also provide opportunities for our students to play and experiment with engineering concepts like dam-building!
Native trees and shrubs, like the mighty oak and the edible elderberry, are important elements in our new landscape. Not only will these woody plants provide cover for wildlife and shade for students and visitors long into the future, they often provide a food source for insects and other wildlife earlier in the season than the herbaceous plants do. Also, woody plants just support more types of species on the whole. For example, goldenrod flowers as a group are known to support 115 insect species, while the family of oak species supports more than 500 kinds of insects! (Doug Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home, 2007)
An important part of landscaping with native plants is to remain on the lookout for invasive species. Invasive plant species were introduced to this area from another part of the world, and don't play nice in our native ecosystems. They throw off the ecological balance, and can take over a landscape. And how many insect species do invasives support? Most of the time, none.
At Tillman, we will need to watch out for bush honeysuckle, wintercreeper euonymus, and johnson grass in our new plantings!
Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)
Compass Plant / Silphium laciniatum
Ashy Sunflower / Helianthis mollis
Lance Leaf Coreopsis / Coreopsis lanceolata
Plains Coreopsis / Coreopsis palmata
Partridge Pea / Chamaecrista fasciculata
Check out this online native birds field guide from Missouri Department of Conservation to discover the birds you might find at Tillman.