Native plants – for the birds, bees and butterflies!

Are you like a kid in a candy store when you go plant shopping? So many choices! But after many years of choosing plants based only their beauty, I discovered that I’ve been doing no favors to the birds and butterflies I was trying to encourage, because I was purchasing mainly non-native plants.

Once established, native plants will provide a beautiful season of blooms with little care.

What is a native plant? Native plants are plants that have historically grown in an area without having been introduced directly or indirectly by humans. They have co-evolved with the area’s insects and birds as part of the food web. 

The bad news: We are in the middle of a mass extinction, with approximately a 30% loss of birds and insects since the 1970’s. The causes include climate change, changes in agricultural practices, habitat loss, and modern gardening and lawn care practices. If this loss continues it will have serious ripple effects throughout the world’s food web, including our own. 

The good news: Many people are coming to realize that our own yards are a critical part of nature. Instead of planting non-native plants that provide no benefit to the food web, and pursuing the perfect green lawn (via copious applications of insecticides and herbicides), more and more gardeners are seeking out plants that aren’t just pretty. 

Caterpillars are critical! Feeding birds is one of America’s most popular hobbies. But with few exceptions, baby birds can’t eat seeds; they need soft-bodied insects. Rearing a clutch of eggs requires around 6,000 to 9,000 insects, with caterpillars the preferred choice. Caterpillars are almost all plant specialists, and most have evolved ways to bypass the defenses of specific plants, and cannot survive elsewhere. (Monarchs and milkweed are just one example of this kind of symbiotic relationship). The plants needed for each species of moth and butterflies’ larvae are called host plants, and providing host plants is the best way to nurture songbirds as well as butterflies and moths. The National Wildlife Foundation has an excellent plant finder database ( that lists plants native to areas by zip code, with info on how many and what species that plant hosts.

This mining bee (Andrena erigeniae) can only use pollen from Spring Beauties to feed its larvae.

Keystone plants– the superstars: There are a number
of plants that are superstars as host plants – we call those keystone plants. In our region, the top trees are oak (host to over 400 species!), followed by American plum (over 300 species); top shrubs include blueberry and willow. Top flowering perennials include the native goldenrods and asters. (See our website for a detailed list).

Are my non-native plants killing the birds and butterflies?  There is no need to dig up your hostas or other nursery plants if you enjoy them. There are many non-native plants that provide nectar to butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s only when it comes to laying eggs that specific plants are needed. Of course, if a plant is invasive (Bradford pear, burning bush, purple loosestrife, for example), its fast-spreading habits destroy diversity in wild areas, and it should be removed. 

What about the bees?
Our native bees, especially bumblebees, are suffering great losses. (Honeybees are not native, and actually can contribute to these losses by competing with native bees for nectar resources). To help the bees, offer a variety of plants so there are nectar sources throughout the season. Bumblebees use a wide variety of nectar and pollen sources, but there are many small specialist bees that can only feed their larvae with the pollen from specific plants. The keystone plants mentioned above can provide for the needs of many of these specialist bees. Bumblebees and other native bees often are ground nesters, so having areas of open soil can provide habitat. 

Native vs. Cultivar: There is some controversy about the use of native plants that have been altered to create a new variety. These plants will be labeled with an additional name in quotes. (For example, a purple coneflower – straight species – would be labeled Echinacea purpurea. A cultivar version might be labeled Echinacea purpurea “White Swan”). These cultivars have been created to appeal to gardeners, but depending on the alteration, they could be less beneficial to insects. In particular, any change to the leaf color or texture could make them inedible or less digestible for caterpillars. Changes to the flower structure might make the nectar or pollen less accessible for pollinators. So if at all possible, choose the straight species.

Your lawn is critical: All this planting of natives will not be helpful if they are surrounded by a lawn that receives applications of insecticides and herbicides and/or spraying for mosquitos. The insects and birds that are attracted by your native plants will be adversely affected! 

– Ellie Nowels

Worthington Green Team’s Learn and Grow Series

Announcing The Green Team’s 2022 Learn and Grow Webinar Series

Join us the first Thursday of every month at 7:00 p.m. for our learn & grow 3.0 webinar series!


February 3rd – Being Conscious about your Closet

Did you know that a garbage truck’s worth of unwanted clothing is disposed of in US landfills every TWO MINUTES? The fashion industry is responsible for an astonishing 10% of global CO2 emissions each year. You can make a difference in your own closet. During this webinar we will share simple things you can be doing to be more conscious in your closet. We are also excited to welcome local Worthington business-owner, Amy Homan, who will share about her business Evolverie and why she chooses fabrics leftover from major fashion houses and designers for her apparel.


March 3rd- Learn all about Native Plants

What are native plants? Why should you be adding them to your yard? With special guest Sara Ernst, Conservation Implementation Specialist from Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District.

April 7th – Compost: Why, How and Where can you compost

Why, How, and Where can you compost? With our very own Sara Gallaugher of Full Circle Source / Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW) and Joanne Dole, Master Gardener

Let’s include caring for our local environment on our list of resolutions

Welcome to 2022! This year let’s make resolutions that not only help us as individuals but also help our local watershed and environment. We all can work together to make this the best place possible for all. In 2021 the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed helped pick up over 8 tons of trash and planted over 828 ball & burlap and containerized trees in the Lower Olentangy Watershed. Here are some great ways that you can personally make a difference at your home and in the community.

  • Pick up Litter
    Get a pair of gloves, a reusable bag and help pick up litter. You can do this by yourself, ask some friends or volunteer with a group. You could do this in your own neighborhood, at a local park or along a trail.
  • Storm Drains
    Only Rain should go down the Drain. Do you know that the storm drains along our streets go straight to a river? They do! Please keep all lawn chemicals, soaps, and oils from going down the storm drain. Remember nothing down the drain but the rain!
  • Plant Native Plants and Trees
    Why should we plant native plants and trees? Native plants and trees support our native wildlife, grow strong long roots to protect the soil and require less watering than grass. Check out for more information about native Ohio plants.
  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Right
    According to SWACO, 76% of what goes to the Franklin County landfill could have been diverted and reused, recycled or composted. Check out SWACO’s website at for more great information on these important R’s.
  • Get involved in your Community by Volunteering
    Volunteer with a local organization that is working on sustainability initiatives. I work with the local nonprofit, Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW). Their mission is to keep the Olentangy River and its tributaries clean and safe for all to enjoy, through public education, volunteer activities, and coordination with local decision-makers. FLOW is able to do the work it does because of its amazing volunteers and sponsors. Some of the ways you could be involved is by volunteering for a service event, such as native tree plantings, litter clean ups, invasive plant removals, planting pollinator gardens, and/or stream quality monitoring. To get involved with FLOW go to and follow them on social media. Another great way to get involved in your community is by joining or starting a neighborhood “Green Team”. Many communities have started a group focused on local sustainability initiatives. I’m personally part of the Worthington Partnership Green Team (@worthingtongreenteam).

There are a lot of additional ways you can make a difference. Go to to find out more and to learn about volunteer opportunities. I hope everyone has a safe & wonderful 2022!

Sara Gallaugher
FLOW Service Event Coordinator

This article appeared as a guest editorial in the Clintonville Spotlight for January 2022

Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed urges you to Vote No on Columbus Issue 7

Issue 7 would divert 87 million in taxpayer dollars from the city into the pockets of a corporation whose interests are self-serving. Pro Energy Ohio, LLC, the group bringing Issue 7, has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and they have no business mishandling the city’s money.  While ‘green-washed’ language of Issue 7 sounds good, Pro Energy Ohio, LLC has not presented a plan on how the funds would be used, and they seek to operate without transparency or oversight. Issue 7 detracts from legitimate efforts to secure clean energy in Ohio. VOTE NO!

For more info, see The Columbus Dispatch’s editorial on issue 7.

The Threat of Coal-Tar Driveway and Parking Lot Sealants

photo of Brian Will

Brian Will

Rachel Carson in her seminal book “Silent Spring” raised public consciousness to the threat of commonly used chemicals such as DDT.  Since the 1962 publication of Carson’s book, society has become aware of many other products that threaten human health and the environment, including cigarettes, refrigerants, neonicotinoids, and asbestos. In the last twenty years, one chemical product that is alarming environmentalists is toxic coal-tar driveway and parking lot sealants, widely used in residential neighborhoods and strip mall parking lots in the Midwest.

Coal-tar sealants are primarily composed of coal-tar pitch, which has 1,000 times more carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) than an equally effective alternative product, asphalt-based sealants.  Asphalt-based sealants are widely available and similarly priced to coal-tar sealants and are a considerably less toxic.

Coal- tar sealant is a black, acrid-smelling goo that is spread on homeowner driveways and parking lots on warm days.  If you have ever walked near a newly sealed driveway and noticed the strong odor of mothballs, you probably were inhaling PAHs from the coal-tar fumes.  As coal-tar sealant is being poured and for years afterward, the carcinogenic PAHs present in the coal-tar gradually spread into the environment in the form of dust. Tires, snow shovels, leaf blowers, brooms, shoes, and bare feet can spread the poisonous dust into the environment as well as bring it inside homes.

The National Cancer Institute has classified coal-tar sealant as a Class 1 carcinogen, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has determined that the PAH’s from coal-tar sealed driveway and parking lot runoff cause birth defects and death in fish, amphibians, and invertebrates.   Coal-tar sealants are so toxic that most nationwide home improvement retailers like Lowe’s, Ace, Home Depot, and TruValue no long sell them.  Thanks to education and advocacy by watershed organizations, many states have implemented bans or restrictions on the selling and application of coal-tar, including Minnesota, Washington, New York, Maryland, California, and Maine. Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., Ann Arbor, Austin, San Antonio, multiple suburbs of Chicago, and over hundred other cities and towns have banned coal-tar sealants.

Since coal-tar sealants are not usually available in retail stores, residents run the risk of being exposed to coal-tar when they hire contractors to seal their driveways. Residents can protect themselves and the environment by informing the contractor that they do not want coal-tar products, and ask for a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MS-DS) of the product they intend to use. If the Chemical Abstract Number (CAS) for the product is 65996-93-2, then that contractor intends to use a coal-tar sealant.

You can learn more about the dangers of coal-tar sealants by visiting the USGS website.  There are also multiple helpful videos on YouTube.

Brian Will

Support FLOW through our Milkweed Mania fundraiser!

In collaboration with Riverside Native Perennials, FLOW is hosting a milkweed sale. Milkweed is great for pollinators, and the butterflies will love you for it! We would love to see more of these native plants within the Lower Olentangy Watershed. The price is $12 per pot, containing 2-3 stems of milkweed. There are a variety of species available including Sullivant’s (Prairie), Whorled, Butterfly, Swamp, and Common.

Ready to order? Visit to order online. All orders must be picked up on Sunday, September 12th from 12PM-3PM at Sawmill Wetlands Education Area (2650 Sawmill Pl. Blvd., Columbus, OH 43235). Mark your calendars! Any orders not picked up during that time frame will be donated to a local greenspace area.

Please email us with any questions!

Thank you for supporting FLOW and our Greenspace Implementation Plan!