Supporting Biodiversity | A Guide to Planting Native Species this NYISAW

May 28, 2024
Irene Sheldon / guest blogger
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Supporting Biodiversity | A Guide to Planting Native Species this NYISAW



As we approach New York Invasive Species Awareness Week (June 3rd-9th), what better time to highlight some wonderful native plant species for your landscaping and gardens?

Want to learn more about NYISAW and how to get involved? Visit

While considering which plants to choose for your home or community, take a little time to learn about the native plants in your area. When we plant native plants and trees, we improve the environment for N.Y. and N.J. wildlife. Native plants attract a variety of local pollinators, do not need fertilizers, and thrive with less water. They also improve poor soil quality, the air we breathe, and water run-off. Native nuts, seeds, and fruits contain a much higher nutritional value which is essential for local wildlife to thrive and prosper. 

“Plant this, not that" is a term used to identify native plant suggestions and help people find safe alternatives to invasive ornamental plants. As beautiful as they are, garden center landscape plants may be invasive species that can escape your yard and become an ecological and economic nightmare. 

Below is a list of five popular invasive nursery plants, and their native alternative for you to consider this spring. 

Plant Common Milkweed instead of Butterfly Bush 

Common milkweed is an essential food plant for eastern monarch caterpillars and is commonly found throughout northeastern New Jersey and southern New York. It grows tall in full sun to from 36 to 60 inches and sports beautiful, globe-shaped fragrant pink flowers. 

Butterfly bush is a hardy, deciduous shrub that can grow up to 15ft and is not native to North America. Originating in China, it has evolved over 140 species as it has spread across Asia to the Americas. Although hardy and appears to help local pollinators, this plant is a very successful seed regenerator/disperser and quickly crowds out native plants. 

Plant Wild Bergamot instead of Dames Rocket 

Wild bergomont has beautiful, white or pink tubular blooms in late summer and aromatic foliage. It tends to grow in tight clumps without spreading as with related bee-balms. It grows up to 48 inches in dry soil and is drought-tolerant. Wildlife friendly, this perennial plant attracts many beneficial pollinators. 

Dames rocket is an aggressive invasive in the mustard family native to Eurasia and was introduced to North America in the 1800’s. It is a showy tall growing perennial, up to 3 feet, and produces long fruits full of seeds that easily disperse and propagate. This plant can quickly invade natural or wooded areas competing with and shading out native plant growth. 

Plant Sneezeweed instead of Common Tansy 

Sneezeweed is a common perennial herb that can be found throughout North America along shorelines, thickets, forest edges, and moist wet ground. Contrary to its name, it will not make you sneeze and is related to its historic use as snuff which causes sneezing. It has showy disk flowers that are bright yellow to orange that bloom in late summer. This plant cultivates well in rich soils and stems can grow to five feet or more in height, although cutting back in late June and early July will force many branched flowering heads. Insects and local pollinators love this plant and it is also useful in stabilizing stream banks and shores. 

Common tansy is a perennial flowering plant that generally grows to 3 feet but can reach up to 7 feet. It forms distinctive yellow button-type flowers and forms a dense cover that degrades pastures. It is native to Eurasia and was brought to the United States because of its medicinal uses, and should not be confused with native tansy 

Plant Eastern Columbine instead of Wax Begonia 

Eastern columbine or wild columbine is a native perennial that is easy to grow and is a magnet for hummingbirds. It is a tough little plant that grows on shady, dry rocky slopes and has showy bi-colored red and yellow bell-like flowers. Growing up to 3ft with a spread of 1- 1.5ft, columbine is a perfect addition to native gardens boarders, and wildlife habitat areas. 

Begonias are a hybrid sold in nurseries and are related to a group of South American species. These plants should be avoided since it is listed as a Category 2 invasive plant. Grown for attractive flowers this plant reaches up to 2ft, roots easily, and is a prolific seed producer. 

Plant Highbush Blueberry instead of Japanese Barberry 

Highbush blueberry is a native perennial hardy, deciduous shrub that bears delicious blueberries in mid-summer. Not only do humans benefit from this shrub but it provides a great source of nourishment to local, native wildlife such as songbirds, squirrels, and deer. It does well in full sun to light shade, dry to wet soil, and can grow to 10ft spreading to 8ft. 

Japanese barberry is an invasive deciduous shrub that has become problematic in many places leading to declines in biodiversity and increased tick habitat. Growing to 3ft and spreading to 8ft, this shrub has green leaves, pale yellow flowers in spring, sharp thorns, and bears red fruit in autumn. It is shade tolerant, drought resistant, and grows prolifically through seeds and rooting low branches. Although edible, the fruits of this shrub are detrimental to wildlife since it has low nutrient values.