Conservation Topics

Why Native Plants

By Kailey Yaun

“If half of American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20-million-acre national park, nine times bigger than Yellowstone, or 100 times bigger than Shenandoah National Park.”  – Doug Tallamy, Entomologist 

What exactly are native plants? 

Native plants are defined as plants indigenous to a given area in geologic time. This includes plants that have developed, occur naturally, or existed for many years in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction (trees, flowers, grasses, and other plants). What makes native plants so special is that they have the ability to survive and regenerate without human intervention. Plants are considered exotic or nonnative if they evolved in other parts of the world, or were cultivated by humans into forms that don’t occur naturally. Plants are considered invasive when non-indigenous plants spread from introduction, become abundant, and likely cause economic, environmental, or human harm. There are indeed beautiful and fascinating nonnative plants, but they typically cause harm to ecosystems. One example of harm inflicted by non-native species includes the depleting of pollinator food availability due to invasive plants crowding out native plants, resulting in decreased populations of both the native plants, as well as the co-dependent pollinator species. Exotic and invasive plants do not support wildlife as effectively as natives, due to the symbiotic relationships native plants formed with other indigenous species over time. In turn, Exotic and invasive plants have been removed from an ecosystem in which natural predation by co-evolved species would normally maintain a balance within the community. Native plants in their respective area offer the most sustainable environment and are the best constituents in forming an integrally cohesive ecosystem. 

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Monarch caterpillar feeding on Ascelpias syriaca (common milkweed)

What are natives good for?

For wildlife: 

  • Native plants are foundational in ecosystems and provide many services to their community
  • They provide shelter, nectar, and food for birds, butterflies, pollinators and many other species of wildlife native to a given area
  • Complex co-evolution has occurred over time with natives (e.g. the Monarch caterpillar and milkweed; milkweed is toxic to many creatures, but Monarch caterpillars evolved to eat milkweed for nourishment to transform into butterflies!) 

For water – clean water and flooding: 

  • Turf requires large amounts of chemicals for upkeep, while natives do not 
  • Deep rooted native plants mitigate flooding, erosion, and stormwater runoff by providing a framework for infiltration and improving soil structure
  • Natives filter sediments out of runoff from streets and infrastructure, preventing pollution and algal blooms in local water bodies
  • Natives are reliably regenerative and don’t require irrigation once established 
  • In general they require less watering, less fertilizer, and fewer pesticides 

For clean air:  

  • Natives effectively conduct “carbon capture”/carbon sequestration, which means carbon dioxide is taken out of the air, while roots put it back into the ground (where it belongs!) 
  • Native ecosystems adapted to local climates and conditions maximize the release oxygen into the air through photosynthesis 
  • Natives can help decrease pollution because they don’t require mowers and other pollution prone equipment as much as nonnatives do 

For food supply: 

  • Natives provide habitat for pollinators who assist in providing us with sustenance 
  • Native plants serve important roles in food webs, serving as the foundational trophic level (or lowest level of the food chain) providing food for all other forms of wildlife in the area

For people – mental and physical health: 

  • Having land with native plants can give people a sense of belonging to the natural world around them. No other place on earth can have native gardens like those in your region, talk about something to experience and bond over within your community! 
  • Studies show spending time in nature makes us happier and healthier 
  • Time in nature decompresses us and lowers stress 
  • Gardening provides physical work to be proud of and to feel a part of your surroundings
  • “Vitamin N” (Vitamin Nature) is the “vitamin” as cited that we need for “Nature-Deficit Disorder”; nature promotes creativity, mental acuity, and provides us with memorable personal experiences – phrases coined by author of “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle”, Richard Louv 

For beauty: 

  • With creative design and good management, natives can thrive in built landscapes 
  • Natives can provide a wild and rugged look, or an orderly, neat aesthetic depending on the application and desired outcome
  • Natives are beautiful!!  

For the future: 

  • Children can learn ecology and be inspired by spending time with plants
  • Plants can provide opportunities for curiosity, discovery, and expanding creativity 
  • Children who connect to nature tend to become adults who care a great deal for the natural world 
  • Long-lasting, healthy ecosystems are supported by native plants for future generations to enjoy 
Erythronium americanum, (yellow trout lily), a beautiful spring ephemeral growing up through leaf litter

Conservation Topics

Prescribed Burning and Deer Hunting

We have had many prospective and existing clients that are concerned about the affect of restoration practices on deer hunting, especially in regards to prescribed burning in their woodlands. A monster buck, along with 2 other bucks, were all harvested opening weekend 2016 in a freshly burned open oak woodland (pictured below)! This woodland was burned the week before opening weekend and it did not adversely affect the hunters on this property from shooting 3 nice bucks in the areas that were burned. In the pictures you can see the freshly burned forest floor that we refer to as “the black.” This woodland has had most of the invasive brush removed, so it is open in structure.

Occasional fire is what shaped the landscape of SW Wisconsin before European settlers began suppressing wildfires. Oak woodlands, savannas, and prairies are historically what covered our landscape and are all fire-dependent ecosystems. Prescribed burning is a way that we can return fire to the landscape and begin to improve the health of our lands.

When burning in woodlands, the fire behavior is much different than the fast moving 15+ foot flames that are common in prairies. In woodlands fire is much more subdued with an average of 2-4′ flames and a much slower rate of spread. This low intensity burn helps discourage herbaceous invasive species, thin out brush and young trees, and consume some of the dead and down woody debris which helps return nutrients to the soil. The brush and young trees that are “top-killed” will re-sprout the following year, producing young shoots that can provide a food source for deer and other wildlife. Prescribed burning is a great tool to help restore your woodland and improve habitat for deer and many other wildlife species.

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Conservation Topics, Projects

Holy Smokes and Drones

On Wednesday Quercus burned at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, WI and had another safe, successful day on the job. The Monastery has 7 units totaling 85 acres of quality prairie on their property. 

The Quercus Crew had the privilege of having Michael Kienitz (  documenting their burn at Holy Wisdom with his incredible drones! It was amazing to see how well his drones handled the rising heat from our flames. The images are breath-taking and a perspective that we normally would never see! Check out the handful of photos from this day and his website for his other works (

Wisconsin Channel 3000 stopped by and interviewed Jim about our burn. Check it out here!

Conservation Topics, Projects

Documentary featuring Quercus at the 2015 Wisconsin Film Festival!

Last spring a UW Madison student, Elizabeth Wadium filmed a short documentary that features Quercus burning at Pheasant Branch and Lakeshore Nature Preserve called “Prairie Burns.” It is being screened at this year’s 2015 Wisconsin Film Festival!  Screening times are Thursday, April 9th at 8:45pm (Union South) and Friday, April 10th at 3:15 (Sundance Cinemas) before a showing of “Uncle John.” Come check out the Quercus Crew in action!