Over the past year, Anne King and her five-year-old daughter have grown native plants in their Portland, Oregon, yard to attract wildlife like birds. Although she knows that gardening can be beneficial for childhood development and overall well-being, gardening with native species—plants that occur naturally in a place without human assistance—can go even further, introducing children to complex concepts like ecosystems, pollinators, and biodiversity.
Even better: Because they’ve naturally existed in a habitat for thousands of years, native plants are adapted to that habitat’s soil and weather, and are more resistant to pests. That makes them more environmentally friendly. According to the U.S. Forest Service, native plants don’t need as much watering (which helps prevent erosion) or fertilizers and pesticides. They also attract important pollinators that transfer pollen from plant to plant, supporting both human food production and prey animals like birds.
And once children understand the importance of native plants to an environment, tending to them empowers kids to protect habitats and biodiversity. “Native plants have the power to nurture and inspire kids,” says Jen Aguilar, education program coordinator for the California Native Plant Society. “It allows them to see themselves playing a role in the protection of nature.”