Louisiana Certified Habitat increases the ecological value of small corners of the earth | Inspired by Louisiana

When Diane Baker looks at her Lafayette garden, she not only sees an abundance of native plants, but also vast and varied wildlife. From different types of butterflies and birds to caterpillars and small insects, it’s more than just a meter. It’s an ecosystem.

Baker is one of more than 170 Louisiana residents whose properties have been listed as Louisiana Certified Habitat. Supported by the Louisiana Native Plant Society and implemented by several independent partner organizations – the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans, the Acadiana Native Plant Program and the LSU Hilltop Arboretum – the program encourages owners and managers to increase and protect the ecological value of their land by introducing native plant species to their backyard.

The idea was first floated by Phyllis Griffard, president of the Acadiana Native Plant Project and coordinator of the Louisiana Certified Habitat program.

“The idea came to me a few years ago,” she says. “Other certifications for environmental programs existed in the associations, but they were national and not regional. So we picked up some ideas from other companies about not just focusing on native plants, but other features of responsible landscaping to maintain ecological function.

With Louisiana’s unique ecosystem, habitat loss due to development and agriculture has made conservation more important than ever. The program aims to recognize the efforts of landowners who strive to restore the land to the state it is meant to be.

And therein lies the key: it’s not just about the plants. Instead, plant life acts as a sort of catalyst for the return of a larger ecosystem as wildlife thrives where appropriate plant species do.

“The idea is that without the right plants, you can’t have a fully functioning ecosystem,” says Griffard. “Without them, you won’t have the insects that feed the birds, etc.”

There are different levels of certification: bronze for 25 plant species, silver for 50 species and gold for 75 species. Although the number of plants may seem daunting, it is not. Most people would be surprised at the number of native plants already planted in their garden.

“We’ve almost always seen that when people look at the checklist, they realize how much they already have,” she says. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know purple coneflower was native. Check it out.'”

For those just starting out, Griffard recommends starting with popular, easy plants like purple coneflower or black-eyed Susan. And because the plants are native, they not only look great, they flower on their own, which means few pesticides and herbicides are needed.

For Diane Baker, the path to a certified court came naturally.

“One thing is that we really haven’t worked to get native plant status,” Baker said. “It kind of happened.”

Baker and her husband, environmentalist Richard Day, were already very aware of good gardening practices and loved the spring plants that grew naturally in their yard: oxalis, fleabane, violets, even thistles.

“We planted flowers that we thought were pretty but turned out to be native plants,” she says.

Natives not only look pretty, but they are also easier to handle.

Diane Baker has tried growing a hibiscus in her garden but describes it as “touching”. When she has a native hibiscus, the flowers are the same, but the plant is easy to grow.

“I had a hibiscus that would make these beautiful red flowers, but it was a little tricky,” Baker said. “Then I took a native hibiscus, and the flowers are the same, but it’s easy. He loves it here. And that’s another reason why I loved being certified: having beautiful flowers can be easy.

It’s all about making the most of what you have.

“Definitely keep the lawn you use,” says Griffard. “But if all you do with your lawn is watch it and mow it, then you could probably do more for nature.”

Since so little of America is functional as an ecosystem, Griffard said “every little nook and cranny that individuals can care for and manage for themselves is a great way to improve ecological function on earth. “.

More information about the program and details on how to participate can be found at lnps.org.

Inspired by Louisiana is a weekly Sunday feature that focuses on people and organizations in Louisiana who are striving to solve problems and make the world a better place. The section is published in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Acadiana. If you know of someone or an organization that is doing exceptional work to improve Louisiana, please let us know by emailing us at [email protected]

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