Why Planting Flowers Helps the Environment


Bee on white flower

I love flower gardens. Not only are flowers beautiful, they also have some awesome eco-friendly superpowers as well.

Planting flowers helps the environment by

  • Cleaning the air
  • Reducing the impact of climate change
  • Stopping erosion
  • Cleansing the soil
  • Conserving water
  • Feeding bees & butterflies
  • Feeding birds & animals
  • Providing habitat for small birds and animals to hide

That’s a pretty impressive resume! So how do simple flowering plants do all this? Read on to find out more.

Wildflowers in a field

How Flowering Plants Help the Environment

Flowering Plants Give us Cleaner Air

Like any plant, flowering plants take in carbon dioxide and through the process of photosynthesis release oxygen. Bigger plants are usually better at “sequestering” or absorbing carbon, just because they have more mass to hold it. But even a patch of Black-eyed Susans or Purple Coneflowers will help clean your air.

Flowering Plants Reduce the effects of climate change

Since excess carbon emissions are huge contributors to climate change, more plants, including flowing ones, can help absorb and reduce the impact of that greenhouse gas. Perennials and ground cover plants are best at this because they absorb the carbon and then help keep it in the soil.

Wildflowers on hillside

Flowering Plants Stop Erosion

With more intense weather patterns we see more areas of the world having mudslides or, in drought-prone areas, more windstorms that are removing the surface soil. Plants can help hold soil in place when stronger storms or droughts occur. Native perennial flowering plants are excellent choices for steep hillsides. They hold the soil in place, help decrease runoff, and attract bees and butterflies. Speaking of decreasing runoff, there are other ways to save water with flowering plants as well.

Cranesbill geranium

Flowering Plants Conserve Water

If you plant native flowering plants instead of a plain old green lawn made up of a single kind of grass you won’t need to water it as much. You also won’t need to use weed killer and fertilizer and you won’t spend every weekend mowing! That’s part of the joy of choosing native plants. They are actually well suited to the area you are planting them and so they’ll grow and thrive without a lot of fussing on your part once they are established.

Sunflowers in a field

Flowering Plants Cleanse the Soil

This was something that I had heard a little bit about but hadn’t done much reading on. What I found made me really optimistic about how the right plants can really help our environment in ways we might not have even thought about. It turns out that some plants are actually able to able to absorb radiation and toxic metals from the ground.

Yep! Some plants can actually do that and one of the best plants for this purpose is the sunflower plant.

“after both the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear incidents, sunflower fields were planted across the affected areas in an effort to absorb radiation, then were harvested and disposed of safely.”

Lauren Jones – University of Virginia

Sunflower plants are what’s called “hyper-accumulators.” It’s kind of like being a hoarder of heavy metals. Sunflowers absorb large amounts of toxic heavy metals from the ground and store them. Then you can harvest the plants and get rid of them in a safe manner.

This leaves the soil a lot cleaner. Cleaning soil by planting sunflowers looks like it could be a much more effective and less expensive way to deal with contaminated soil in many instances.

So here’s to the humble sunflower plant! Three cheers for being such good cleaners and such an important part of keeping our planet healthy.

Bee on flower

Flowering Plants Help Save the Bees

Our bees aren’t doing well. I’m sure you’ve seen articles about how honey bees are under threat. This is a global problem and needs our attention.

Some populations around the world have been and are in huge decline, a worldwide bee death is an issue that needs to be taken seriously.

Bee-Careful

We need the bees because they are key pollinators. Without pollinators, to put it quite bluntly, we won’t have enough food. The majority of the crops we grow and the food we eat relies on pollination.

When bees pollinate food crops, rather than crops relying on self-pollination, the yield is actually higher and the fruits are better quality. Strawberries are one great example of where this is true.

Crops like cocoa and vanilla are 100% reliant on bees as pollinators. Plus, cotton, a crop we rely on for making clothing like denim jeans requires pollination as well.

There are a lot of things that have been contributing to the decline in the bee population. The use of harmful chemicals like pesticides is one. The rise of the varroa mite is also weakening bees, making them less disease resistant and making drones infertile.

So what can we do in the face of this serious problem? Two key things we can do are:

1) Stop using pesticides that harm or kill bees.

2) Plant a variety of native flowers.

Like us, when bees have a varied diet, they are healthier and do better. We are urged to “eat the rainbow” or eat all different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Get all the colors and you’ll be healthier because you’ll be getting better nutrition we are told.

This is true for bees as well. You don’t necessarily need flowers in all the colors of the rainbow. What you need to plant are flowers that bloom at different times of the year so that you are feeding bees throughout the entire spring, summer and fall season.

Butterfly on flower

Flowering Plants Feed Butterflies with Nector

Just as flowering plants feed bees, they also feed butterflies. Butterflies are pollinators as well, although they aren’t quite as efficient at it as bees are, they still are important to the health of our ecosystems.

To help butterflies the most it’s important to focus on planting flowering plants that bloom from early spring to late fall so that butterflies have a steady food supply available to them.

Goldfinch on flower stalk

Flowering Plants Feed Birds & Animals with their Seeds

Flowering plants produce seeds as part of their lifecycle. Many birds and small animals rely on these seeds as a food source. One great example is the Echinacea or Purple Cone Flower plant (not shown in photo above). Goldfinches love the seeds and leaving the seed heads on the plant over the winter will give these beautiful little guys an additional food source.

Provide habitat for small birds and animals to hide

On a great big flat green lawn there aren’t many places for little animals and small birds to hide. When you have mounds of native flowering plants you provide habitat for all kinds of small birds and animals to live and hide. That’s definitely beneficial to the environment because each little critter has a role to play in the life cycle of the planet.

Finding the Best Flowering Plants

Native plants are the most eco-friendly because as I’ve mentioned they are well suited to the area they’ll be planted in. They are easier to care for and they often are specialists at providing food sources for the native animals in your yard and garden as well.

If you’re not sure what plants are native to your area you can easily find out with the Native Plant Finder website. It’s super easy to use. You just type in your zip code and they will give you a list of flowers, shrubs, and trees that are native to your area. They’ll also tell you how many butterflies or moths these plants attract. How fun is that?!?

An Important Caution

When choosing what flowers to plant in your garden it’s important to be sure that they haven’t been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. These are pesticides that will already be on the plant when you buy it.

A couple of years back Home Depot, for one, phased out using this pesticide on the plants that they sell. But it doesn’t hurt to check with the store you’re buying from if you’re not sure the plants they sell are neonicotinoid free. You don’t want to plant flowers that will end up killing your bees.

Resources:

http://www.bee-careful.com/bee-life/bee-health/

https://news.virginia.edu/content/uva-undergraduate-researcher-studies-sunflowers-power-clean-soil

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