Does your garden have enough native plants?

Hubert Ling, president of The New Jersey Native Plant Society, said it's important that local garden centers to sell native plants and for residents to plant them in their yards because the animal population in New Jersey depends on them.

One example: Native plants feed native insects, especially caterpillars, which birds rely on for food.

Ling said more than 90% of the birds in New Jersey require a caterpillar to feed their young. Caterpillars do poorly, if they survive at all, on some of the non-native plants.

So if a yard doesn't have about 50% of native plants and trees in it, birds will go somewhere and the state runs the risk of losing bird populations.

Ling supports legislation introduced by Sen. Christopher "Kip" Batemen, R-Somerset, that would establish the Jersey Native Plants Program to promote the sale of native vegetation at local garden centers.

A native plant is something that's been here for thousands of years, even before people existed, Ling said.

New Jersey is home to about 2,100 native plant species and another  900 non-native plants that thrive here.

Bee balm is one native plant that can be found in local garden centers. Another is the cardinal flower — a bright red flower that's great for hummingbirds that pass through New Jersey on their way to New England.

Almost all trees seen in the state are native: beeches, birches, hickories, walnuts, oaks and maples.

Native plants gaining popularity in New Jersey include blood root and some of the goldenrods such as wreaths and zigzag

Mountain mint, wild geranium, wild snapdragon and twin leaf plants are also gaining popularity in the Garden State.

Another reason why native plants are important is because a third of our food comes from insect-pollinated plants. L

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