Pollinator Plants and Public Policy

Learn how one North Carolina county is educating its residents about native plant species to benefit biodiversity and green infrastructure.

The densely packed blooms of creeping phlox make it one of the best perennials for attracting butterflies. Photo by Adobe Stock/Jill Lang

If you’re a hungry traveler in the area of Raleigh, North Carolina, you’re in luck; there are some great new places to nourish you on your journey through town. But these aren’t new restaurants for people driving through the state’s capital: They’re new plantings of native trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, and groundcovers created for the benefit of bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators.

In October 2018, the Wake County Board of Commissioners announced a significant step toward celebrating their region’s natural heritage and restoring the ecological balance lost through commercial development by approving a resolution to increase the use of native plants in Wake County. The Native Plant Initiative, sponsored by Commissioner Sig Hutchinson, requires contractors to use a minimum of 70 percent native plants in landscape installations on county government projects in the 12 municipalities and unincorporated areas of Wake County, according to a county spokesperson. The county will also place signs in the installations to educate the public about the uses and benefits of native plants.

The biodiversity of Raleigh, North Carolina, comes in part from the fact that Wake County acts as the northern boundary for many plant species, and the southern boundary for many others. Photo by Adobe Stock/Mark

“In these times, it‘s hard to find a feel-good initiative that everybody can get behind,” says Hutchinson. “So, from that perspective, this is fun, it’s easy, and it’s meaningful […] not just for a species, but for an ecosystem, to start to put the ecosystem back into balance. It’s not only good for the tree and the bush, but it’s also good for the caterpillars, the insects, the birds, and the butterflies. It’s good for everything.”

In letting contracts, the county doesn’t give its designers a list of native plants they’re required to use. Instead, they refer contractors to resources such as the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s PLANTS Database, the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension, the North Carolina Botanical Garden, the North Carolina Native Plant Society, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s “Stormwater Design Manual.”



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