Support Local Biodiversity

Grow Native Plants

April is Native Plant Month – it’s recognized both nationally and here in Indiana. Not only are native plants beautiful and beneficial, but they’re also easier to care for! That’s because native plants are adapted to local weather and soil conditions, meaning they don’t need to be watered as often and may not need fertilizers to thrive. Plus, native plants evolved alongside native animals and fungi, and these kingdoms rely on each other to survive.  

This is the perfect time of year to plan for the growing season. As you prepare your lawn and garden, consider adding native plants and even replacing non-native species. And we’re not just talking about the flowers in your garden beds! Native trees, shrubs, grasses and sedges make great additions as well.  

The Global Center for Species Survival at the Indianapolis Zoo is located in Indiana, so we refer to the Indiana Native Plant Society’s Plant Finder tool when deciding what to grow. The North American Native Plant Society website is another great resource. It’s likely you can find similar resources wherever you live.  

Here are a few Indiana plants that we’re especially passionate about within the Global Center team.  


The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) tree – sometimes referred to as the “Indiana banana” – reaches farther north than its closest relatives in the Annonacae family. All other species in the family are tropical. The pawpaw is the only temperate species with a native range that extends from northern Florida to Ontario, Canada. It is indigenous to 26 states. Pawpaw fruit is the largest edible native fruit in the U.S. (at least as far as humans are concerned). The fruit is sweet, often compared to the flavor of a banana, and has a custard-like texture. You can eat it raw or use it to make a variety of desserts. While the fruit is delicious, humans might not appreciate the smell of pawpaw flowers. That’s because they have evolved to produce a fragrance similar to that of rotting meat to attract beetles and flies as pollinators. Another insect that loves pawpaws is the zebra swallowtail. This striking butterfly feeds exclusively on pawpaw leaves while in its larval, caterpillar stage.  

Purple Passionflower

If you’re looking for stunning flowers to attract butterflies to your home garden, look no further than the purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), also known as the maypop. In the summer, this climbing vine produces large purple flowers and edible yellow berries. Several beautiful butterflies rely on the leaves of purple passionflowers to feed their caterpillars, including the gulf (Agraulis vanillae) and variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia).  


When it comes to Indiana plant diversity, sedges rule! According to the Indiana Native Plant Society, nearly 8% of our native plant species are in the genus Carex. Sedges occur in nearly every native habitat in Indiana and are of greatest abundance in wetland habitats. Unfortunately, Indiana wetlands aren’t what they used to be. As the Indiana Department of Natural Resources reports, the Hoosier state was quite a wet place before agriculture became widespread. “In 1816, about half of the surface area of northwestern Indiana was ponded during six months of the year. Benton County was more than half wetland. In 1834, Beaver Lake, in Newton County, occupied 28,500 acres… by 1917, Beaver Lake had shrunk to 10,000 acres, and today exists in name only.” Indiana’s once vast wetland no longer exists, but smaller sites remain. If your property can support water-loving sedges, we recommend tussock sedge (Carex stricta), fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea) and greater straw sedge (Carex normalis). And if you’re looking for a nice companion to your sedges, scouringrush horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) is a gorgeous addition. Indiana Native Plant Society describes it best, “Not a grass, not a sedge, but a fern ally that can fill damp spots where nothing else will grow.” 


Did you know that Indiana is home to more than 40 native orchid species? That’s more than Hawaii! Indiana orchid species include yellow lady’s slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum)frog orchid (Dactylorhiza viridis)dragon’s mouth (Arethusa bulbosa)downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), and large whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillate). You can learn about all of Indiana’s native orchids from the North American Orchid Conservation Center. While our orchids may look different from what you see for sale at your local lawn and garden store, Indiana orchids are lovely and diverse. In fact, the orchid family is the most diverse among all plant life! You can learn more about orchids by reading our previous blog post: Biodiversity in Bloom. 

We hope you will be inspired by our native flora this spring and consider bringing these species into your own backyard. By doing so, you contribute not only to healthy ecosystems and species but also to your own health and well-being. 

This blog was a collaboration between experts at the Global Center for Species Survival, including Plants & Fungi Conservation Coordinator Cátia Canteiro and Marine Conservation Coordinator Coralie Palmer. 

Published April 22, 2024

Cátia Canteiro

Cátia Canteiro is the Plants & Fungi Conservation Coordinator for the Global Center for Species Survival.

Learn more about plant conservation and Cátia.

Coralie Palmer

Coralie Palmer is the Marine Conservation Coordinator for the Global Center for Species Survival.

Learn more about marine conservation and Coralie.