Know Ohio: Ohio's Native Plants
When you take a walk outside, you probably see all kinds of plants. But the ones you see most often are likely not native plants. Native plants are plants that grow in Ohio naturally. The grass on your lawn, the roses in your neighbor’s garden, and even some of the weeds your parents can’t seem to get rid of -- were all brought here, at one time, by people.
The native plants and wildflowers that grew here before white settlers arrived are colorful, vibrant, and uniquely beautiful. Ohio’s official state wildflower – the white trillium – grows a gorgeous white flower with 3 petals. But this plant grows veeeery slowly. In fact, it takes 7 to 10 years to even grow flowers. And it’s virtually impossible to grow one of these guys in a nursery – according to experts, it only grows in the wild.
But Ohio’s native plants aren’t just eye candy – they’re also like candy…candy. Like the pawpaw. The pawpaw is a small tree native to Southeastern Ohio, but the real prize is the fruit that grows on it – I would describe the taste as a cross between a banana and a mango. Although it was enjoyed by Native Americans and early White settlers, the pawpaw was a forgotten fruit for years – but it has recently seen a resurgence in popularity. The folks in Athens, Ohio are so crazy for the pawpaw that they have a festival devoted to it!
Parks are one place you’re likely to see a lot of native plants – but sometimes it takes work. At the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Chris Davis, a plant biologist, has been growing natives in a green house, and plants them all around the park. He says native plants are important because native animals and insects rely on them – and the more native species there are, the healthier and more vibrant the park becomes.
One thing I like to do when I’m out for a hike is look for some of these native plants. Maybe you can impress your friends by identifying them. But one thing you shouldn’t do is pick them – an old saying that many hikers live by is “take only pictures, leave only footprints” – unless, of course, a delicious ripe pawpaw is staring you in the face. Then, I say, pick away!