Eat your natives

Written by Drew Vandegrift
    Tuesday, 13 April 2021
American Black Currant (Ribes americanum) photo by Kim Forbeck American Black Currant (Ribes americanum) photo by Kim Forbeck

Recently I have been reflecting on gardening and wildlife.

As a gardener, I enjoy pondering what food I can grow for myself and my family. Then I do my best to keep wildlife out of the garden.

As a Land Steward, I garden for wildlife. I consider what plants I can add to the land for the benefit of wildlife. Specifically, I ask myself “What wildlife species can I feed or provide shelter for?” And then “What plants do those wildlife need?”

There is a clear separation between wildlife and humans. A space for us to grow our food. A space for wildlife to flourish. Could we make spaces for both humans and wildlife to thrive? Below are three native Wisconsin plants that produce delicious berries for you. They also serve wildlife by providing food or shelter.

Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana): You will swear that every bite is the sweetest you have ever had! Our Wisconsin native strawberries are about the size of a raspberry. They grow and readily spread in any sandy area. An astounding 68 butterflies and moths use native strawberry plants as hosts for their caterpillars1.

Wild Grape (Vitis riparia): Wisconsin has a native grape?! Indeed, and it is used by 64 moths and butterflies as a host for their young (caterpillars)1. Plant this grapevine in full sun and you will be enjoying the puckering-sweet fruit in no time! Wild grapes form bunches of pea-sized grapes.

American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): At least 48 insects utilize this plant as food or shelter2. Currants have a plum-like flavor and they burst like a grape. The fruit is the size of a candy skittle on this Wisconsin native shrub.

I hope you will find space on your land or balcony to try these out!

1Native Plant Finder https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/
2 Illinois Wildflowers https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/wetland/tables/table15.html


Drew Vandegrift

Drew Vandegrift

Drew enjoys tinkering with bikes, chasing salamanders and experimenting with yoga. He is passionate about wildlife and human environments and studied at Michigan State University. Drew received an undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology and a master’s degree in horticulture. At the Urban Ecology Center he stewards the land and continues learning from the natural world.


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