Washington State, renowned for its lush landscapes and diverse ecosystems, is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and gardeners alike. One aspect that often goes overlooked, however, is the critical role native plants play in supporting local wildlife, particularly beneficial insects. These insects are not just beautiful additions to our gardens but are pivotal in pollination, pest control, and maintaining ecological balance. In this blog, we'll explore the top five native plants in Washington State best suited for attracting and providing resources to these essential creatures.
Recommended Native Plants for Attracting Beneficial Insects in Washington State
Washington State's diverse climates, from coastal rainforests to arid eastern plains, host a variety of native plants that are not only visually stunning but also serve as vital resources for beneficial insects. Let's delve deeper into the characteristics and regional preferences of these plants.
- Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
- Appearance: Oregon Grape stands out with its holly-like, glossy green leaves which turn a purplish-bronze in winter. In early spring, clusters of bright yellow flowers emerge, followed by deep blue berries in late summer.
- Characteristics: This evergreen shrub can grow up to 6 feet tall and thrives in shady, woodland environments. It’s drought-tolerant once established, making it a low-maintenance choice.
- Regional Preference: Common in the understory of Douglas-fir forests throughout western Washington, it adapts well to both coastal and inland environments.
- Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)
- Appearance: This deciduous shrub is known for its stunning, pendulous clusters of bright pink to deep red flowers that bloom in spring.
- Characteristics: It can reach up to 10 feet in height and prefers well-drained soil. After flowering, dark blue-black berries form, which are a food source for birds.
- Regional Preference: Predominantly found in moist, forested areas of western Washington, it's also adaptable to garden settings in both sun and partial shade.
- Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana)
- Appearance: This wild rose features fragrant, pink flowers with five petals, blooming from late spring to early summer. Its stems are often covered in thorns, and it bears round, red-orange hips in the fall.
- Characteristics: A robust shrub that can grow up to 9 feet tall, it thrives in various habitats, including forest edges and open fields.
- Regional Preference: Widespread across Washington, the Nootka Rose is particularly common in the Puget Sound region and along the coast, often forming dense thickets.
- Camas (Camassia quamash)
- Appearance: Camas is recognized for its striking blue, star-shaped flowers on tall, slender spikes that bloom in late spring.
- Characteristics: This perennial plant has grass-like leaves at the base and can reach up to 2 feet in height. It prefers wet, spring meadows and well-drained soils.
- Regional Preference: While widespread in Washington, Camas is especially abundant in the wetter western regions, often seen in meadows and along streambanks.
- Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
- Appearance: Snowberry is notable for its small, bell-shaped, white to pinkish flowers and distinctive white berries that appear in the fall and persist into winter.
- Characteristics: This deciduous shrub, growing up to 5 feet tall, is known for its hardiness and ability to thrive in poor soil conditions.
- Regional Preference: Common across Washington, particularly in open forests and along streambanks. It's also a popular shrub in urban and restoration plantings due to its adaptability.
By choosing to plant these native species, gardeners in Washington State can enjoy a range of aesthetic benefits while supporting local ecosystems and the insects that play critical roles within them. Each plant, with its unique characteristics and regional adaptabilities, contributes to a diverse and vibrant garden landscape that reflects the natural beauty of Washington.
Beneficial Insects Attracted to Native Plants
The native plants of Washington State are not just a treat for the eyes but also a haven for various beneficial insects. Each of these insects plays a vital role in the ecosystem, contributing to pollination, pest control, and maintaining a healthy garden. Let's replace hummingbirds with another significant insect from the Pacific Northwest in our exploration.
- Bees (Various Species)
- Appearance and Role: Bees in Washington State, including bumblebees and solitary bees, are known for their fuzzy bodies and distinctive stripes. As primary pollinators, they are essential for plant reproduction and biodiversity.
- Plant Preferences: Oregon Grape and Camas are highly favored by bees. The Oregon Grape’s early spring blossoms are crucial for early-season pollinators.
- Butterflies (Various Species)
- Appearance and Role: Butterflies, with their vividly colored wings, are not just beautiful to watch but also aid in pollination. They typically have a long proboscis for feeding on nectar.
- Plant Preferences: The Nootka Rose and Red Flowering Currant are butterfly magnets. Their wide, open flowers provide an easy landing pad and ample nectar.
- Beneficial Wasps (Various Species)
- Appearance and Role: These wasps, often misunderstood as pests, are crucial for controlling harmful insects. They have slender, elongated bodies and are usually black or metallic in color.
- Plant Preferences: Snowberry plants are particularly attractive to these wasps, offering both nectar and a habitat for hunting.
- Native Ladybugs (Ladybird Beetles)
- Appearance and Role: Ladybugs, recognizable by their red or orange bodies with black spots, are natural pest controllers, feeding on aphids and other garden pests.
- Plant Preferences: While ladybugs are not specific to any native plant, they thrive in environments where native plants support a diverse insect population.
- Lacewings (Green and Brown)
- Appearance and Role: Lacewings, with their delicate, transparent wings, play a critical role in pest control, particularly during their larval stage when they consume large quantities of aphids, mites, and caterpillars.
- Plant Preferences: They are drawn to areas with a high presence of prey, often found around plants like the Oregon Grape.
- Hoverflies (Syrphid Flies)
- Appearance and Role: Hoverflies, resembling small bees, are excellent at controlling aphids. They also contribute to pollination, moving pollen as they feed on nectar.
- Plant Preferences: Plants like Nootka Rose, with their accessible flowers, are particularly appealing to hoverflies.
- Ground Beetles (Carabidae)
- Appearance and Role: Ground beetles, varying in color from black to metallic, are nocturnal predators that feed on a variety of garden pests like slugs, snails, and cutworms.
- Plant Preferences: They are generally found in areas with dense vegetation and ground cover, such as those provided by plants like Snowberry and Oregon Grape.
By planting a variety of these native species, gardeners in Washington State can create a supportive environment for these beneficial insects. Not only do these plants enhance the aesthetic appeal of gardens, but they also play a pivotal role in sustaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem.
Incorporating native plants into our Washington State gardens isn't just a step towards creating a more beautiful and natural landscape; it's a crucial move towards supporting and preserving our local ecosystems. By choosing plants like Oregon Grape, Red Flowering Currant, Nootka Rose, Camas, and Snowberry, we not only enjoy the splendor of native flora but also offer a haven to beneficial insects. These insects, in turn, contribute significantly to our environment by pollinating plants, controlling pests, and maintaining the balance of nature. Let's embrace these native plants and the myriad of life they support, making our little corners of the world a bit more vibrant and alive.
Also see our companion guide for Gardening with Native Plants.
For more information on where to purchase these plants, see our collection of native wildflower seeds.