Choosing the Best Native Plants #1: Birdsfoot Violet

Do I have to have ALL native plants in my garden to support birds, butterflies and bees? This is a common question and an important one for all of us, but especially for those who are just getting to know native plants and are not comfortable with changing over the whole garden!

The answer is, surprisingly, NO! In fact, it’s much simpler than that. Dr. Doug Tallamy, who has written the now-popular book Bringing Nature Home, tells us that all we really have to do is pick from the 5 to 10 most important plants. But how do we know what those plants are?

It’s really quite simple, thanks to the the searchable database on the National Wildlife Federation website. I followed the prompts to type in my ZIP code and selected PLANTS from the three options. There was my list. The plants are listed by Genus, in order from those that support the most wildlife to the least. Among the top 10 is Viola, a good host plant to 28 different butterfly species It just so happens that a member of this family, the Birdsfoot Violet (Viola pedata) is one of my very favorite spring-blooming native plants.

Birdsfoot violet got its name from the fact that its leaves are shaped like bird’s feet, unlike other violets that have heart-shaped leaves. The leaves of Bidrsfoot Violet are thin and delicate and actually do look like a bird’s foot or footprint. The plant likes sandy and dry spots in the yard and grows to only about 3 inches, blooming in early spring with a lovely blue-violet flower.

Look for it in the woods and plant some in your own garden for a delightful surprise in spring! Birdsfoot Violet is easy to grow and rewards with a lovely light blue flower.