Native plants: beautiful, cheap, sustainable


As winter's grip on campus loosens up and students once again come to life, the campus greenery also blooms.  Springtime at DePauw brings green grass, colorful tulips and yellow daffodils.  As beautiful and natural as this landscaping may seem, the fact is these green spaces are not very "green" at all.  The grass, the flowerbeds, and even some of the trees that DePauw uses to landscape are not native to Indiana.  

Now I know what you are thinking,  "Why should I care about native plants?"    

Before I discuss the benefits of native landscaping, it is important to stress that "greenscaping" can be just as beautiful, if not more so, than conventional landscaping.  If you have ever been to the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics, you have seen how pretty this kind of outdoor design can be.  Native landscaping is used around the building, along the creek and down to the Bartlett Reflection Center.  If done correctly, DePauw can keep the aesthetic collegiate atmosphere without sacrificing cost and sustainability.  

One of the big pluses that DePauw would gain from native landscaping is water conservation.  Since native flowers, shrubs and trees are indigenous, they are adapted to local conditions.  This means that Indiana plants can better survive the winter cold and summer heat. Once established, they simply require less water than non-native plant species.   

Another positive of using native plants around campus would be the reduction of pesticides and fertilizers.  Again, since these plants are native, they are accustomed to dealing with local pests and are adapted to growing vigorously in Indiana soil.  Pesticides and fertilizers are therefore only rarely needed.  Not only are pesticides and fertilizers expensive, but they also eventually end up flowing into local watersheds and harming aquatic systems. 

Landscaping with native plants would also provide critical habitat for many Indiana mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects.  A healthy community of native plants is the basis of a diverse, local ecosystem.  If DePauw were to adopt native landscaping practices, we would be growing not only an aesthetically pleasing home for us, but also a home for critically threatened native pollinators and other wildlife. 

As DePauw begins to make major campus changes over the next decade, I strongly encourage the administration to increase its landscaping with native Indiana plants. The fact is that greenscaping could save the university thousands of dollars a year by conserving water, reducing fertilizers and pesticides and decreasing landscape labor costs.  Native landscaping will also make a direct impact in our local environment by reducing fertilizer and pesticide run off as well as create new habitats for animals. 

Currently, senior Katherine Wright has been working with the university on improving sustainable landscape practices.  In the next couple of weeks, Wright, along with DePauw's Environmental Club, will be creating native landscaping test plots behind Olin and near Rector Village.  These plots will be designed to show the students and administration that landscaping with native plants can be just as beautiful as DePauw's current methods.  I urge you to stop by these spaces and take a look for yourself at how pretty native flora can be.          

— Hesterberg is a sophomore from Cincinnati, Ohio, majoring in biology. He is a Science Research Fellow.