Green Corp is a corporation that brings nature into the schools. Its mission is to "teach the next generation of environmental leaders the strategies and skills they'll need to win tomorrow's environmental battles while providing critical field support for today's pressing environmental problems." It is funding a group of students at my high school and currently we are planting a variety of native plants that have many benefits, including lower maintenance costs, helping to eliminate pollution and, most important, bringing back wildlife habitat. The Green Corp has played a large part in creating a natural ecosystem for the lands around our school. Now instead of only grass we have tall grass, prairies, oak savannahs, woodlands and wetlands that are home to birds, butterflies and other species.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a community of native plants provides habitat for a variety of wildlife such as songbirds and butterflies. Native plants are also beautiful, hardy and drought-resistant. Plus, they're supposed to be there, so they don't need chemicals or extra attention to survive, which benefits the environment.
Everything is related: with native plants you don't need fertilizers, which means you don't have phosphorus and nitrogen run-off flowing into lakes and rivers, resulting in decreased algae growth. Excess algae is bad because it lowers water's oxygen levels, harming aquatic life and even interfering with recreational use.
Not only do we not use fertilizers, but we do not use pesticides either, which helps the water system. The deep root system of many native Midwestern plants increases the soil capacity to store water, according to the EPA. They significantly reduce water run-off and, consequently, flooding.
The main concern we face is air pollution. Non-native plants and lawns are part of the problem. If you enjoy planting and not polluting the air, use native plants. The government can even save money by supporting native plants. A study by Applied Ecological Services of Larger Properties estimates that over a 20-year period, the cumulative cost of maintaining a prairie or wetland is $3,000 per acre, compared with $6,000 to maintain an acre of lawn.
Green Corp has also participated in seeding instead of transplanting native plants, which is less expensive. Keep in mind, though, that native plants grow slowly from seed and often do not bloom until the third year (epa.gov/ glnpo/greenacres/nativeplants).
All of Illinois will enjoy the outcome of Green Corp's work. After all, the EPA says, "Native plants are a part of our heritage, and natural landscaping is an opportunity to reestablish diverse native plants, thereby inviting the birds and butterflies back home."
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.