California native plants: The ultimate low-water landscape for butterflies, birds and beauty

Everyone knows that, most of the time, we are in a water crisis. Not everyone knows we are also in an extinction crisis. Since 1970, the world has lost 52% of its vertebrate wild animals – birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. (Footnote 1) Landscaping with native plants helps mitigate the water and extinction crises, providing dramatic water savings (about 80%!) and essential habitat for butterflies, birds and other wildlife, which give us ecosystem services such as pollination and natural pest control. In addition, native gardens require NO soil amendments, fertilizers or pesticides, all of which can harm watershed and ecosystem health. Native gardens are a positive local environmental action with a multitude of benefits!

The Earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction mainly due to habitat destruction. We can be a force for good by protecting the wildlands that remain and creating native habitat in our urban and suburban areas. Even just a scrap of land with a few native plants can make a difference for support of birds, insect pollinators and other wildlife, which give us so much more than beauty. We can show our appreciation by planting the native plants that provide them with the insects, nectar, fruit, leaf, nut or berry foods they need in order to survive. Imagine how our neighborhood landscapes could be transformed into places that are not just decorative, but places that hum and buzz with life! Let’s bring songbirds and clouds of butterflies back to Southern California! How? Native plants!

Cedar waxwing birds on toyon ( Heteromeles arbutifolia )  - Image © Antonia Warner

Cedar waxwing birds on toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)  - Image © Antonia Warner

We must remember that, to create sustainable communities, “green” buildings, renewable energy and decreased water use are not enough; we need healthy food webs and functioning ecosystems as well. These require biodiversity, which, on land, requires native plants.