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In your own backyard: native plants and you

When you think of zoos and conservation, you likely think of efforts to save animals. And rightly so- if you’ve been following along with our Conservation Blogs this year, you may be familiar with the fantastic partnerships that enable our contributions to a variety of species near and dear to our hearts. But, as our most recent Conservation Blog outlines, plant conservation, especially of our native Georgia species, is a substantial facet of our conservation mission.

Currently in Georgia, over 650 species of plants are considered of “special concern,” with 25 of those species protected by the Endangered Species Act and 130 species protected by state wildlife protection laws (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). That leaves over 400 species unprotected by any state or federal measures. Habitat destruction is largely to blame for dwindling plant populations, with ever-expanding urban sprawl and an obsession with highly manicured lawns in landscaping.

Why does this matter? Native plants are the cornerstones of ecosystems. Without native plants and the insects they support, local birds cannot survive. And from there the effects domino, threatening biodiversity at every level.

Here at Zoo Atlanta we wholeheartedly believe individuals can make a difference in almost any conservation issue. The good news about native plants is that individual action can actually have a substantial impact on protecting local ecosystems. Today we’re breaking down three easy ways that anyone can help conserve native plants.

Plant Native Plants

First and foremost, and perhaps quite obviously, the best thing you can do to help preserve native plants is to plant them in your own yard. Unfortunately, most of the landscaping plants available in nurseries are imported species from other countries. These exotic plants not only sever local food webs, but can become invasive pests.

There are a number of reasons focusing your landscaping around native plants is beneficial. Aside from their invaluable impact on local wildlife, native plants are more likely to grow successfully, as they have evolved over thousands of years to thrive in your specific area. Native plants also typically require much less watering, fertilizer, and pesticides, and can prevent water run-off and improve air quality.

Ideally, native plants should be sourced from local growers- like the plants at our upcoming Zoo Atlanta Plant Sale! You can also find a directory of University of Georgia-recommended local plant nurseries here.

Not sure which plants in your area are native? You can use Audubon’s native plant directory to find out!

Make and Disperse Seed Bombs

In urban and suburban areas, where much of the native vegetation has been removed, making and dispersing seed bombs is a fun method of reintroducing indigenous plants to help re-establish native populations. When making seed bombs, organic matter is mixed with native plant seeds and thrown into abandoned lots, roadsides, railway lines, deforested lands, and anywhere one hopes to add more plant species. You can find our guide to making seed bombs here and a video tutorial here!

Get Involved with a Land Trust

For those interested in getting more involved with native ecosystem conservation, volunteering with a land trust is a great place to start. Land trusts are charitable organizations that acquire or steward land or conservation easements for the purposes of protecting natural habitats, water quality, and scenic views, or ensuring that the land is always available for farming, forestry, or outdoor recreational use. Volunteer work with land trusts includes property monitoring, trail work, repairs, and occasionally assistance with research projects. You can find a list of local land trusts with volunteer opportunities here.

As always, we’d like to thank you for all the ways you help preserve wildlife and wild spaces, whether abroad or based right here in our beautiful, biologically diverse home state.

Sources:

  • 5 Reasons Native Plants Help You Save Money and the Planet. American Society of Landscape Architects. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://www.asla.org/nativeplantssavemoney.aspx
  • Explore Land Trusts. Land Trust Alliance. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://landtrustalliance.org/land-trusts/explore?toggle%5Bfeatures.volunteerOpportunities%5D=true
  • Georgia Native Plant Initiative. State Botanical Garden of Georgia. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://botgarden.uga.edu/conservation-science/georgia-native-plant-initiative/#:~:text=Native%20plants%20are%20the%20best,are%20becoming%20more%20readily%20available.
  • Plant Conservation in Georgia. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://www.fws.gov/project/plant-conservation-georgia
  • Why Native Plants Matter. Audubon . (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2023, from https://www.audubon.org/content/why-native-plants-matter

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