04/03/2008 04:12 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Native Plants Belong in Native Habitats

"Native plants don't just save water, they save species," says Lisa Novick, Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator with the Theodore Payne Foundation, an organization dedicated to encouraging the planting and cultivation of California native plant gardens. "Only 7% of insects can eat non-native plants. Without insects to convert plant material to proteins most higher land animal life forms will go extinct," she explains. A California native oak tree can support over 400 different kinds of insects. A Norway maple, for example, supports nothing. They just soak up water with no effect. They simply drain our water supplies without supporting the other native species or the food web.

For instance, almost all caterpillars, known as baby-bird food, can only eat native plants. Without caterpillars, baby birds have nothing to eat. "Without native plants, the butterflies go extinct. They should be everywhere, like they used to be. Our environment is much more sterile now, not full of life, not full of butterflies, like it was some years ago," adds Novick.

All insects, which co-evolved with native plants over millions of years, have certain kinds of enzymes that can digest certain kinds of plants, i.e. native species plants. Take away their plants and they all die. Four percent of our wild lands are left in the United States. 41% of our total land goes to agriculture. 55% goes to urban/suburban use. Without native plant gardens to support biodiversity we're not going to have enough native plants to support our current diversity of native species.

The Theodore Payne Foundation's, Link, 5th Annual California Native Garden Tour is coming up on April 12th & 13th. Tours will be held of 37 participating Los Angeles area homes on both Saturday and Sunday from 10-4pm. Their native plant landscapes are showcased on the self-guided tour and docents are on hand at the gardens. At least 50% of the plants in each garden are California natives.

Susan Gottlieb, owner of Venice's new G2 Art Gallery, will have her Beverly Hills native plant garden showcased on the tour. "I love showing my garden. It's a mission to me. I really want people to use California natives, it just makes so much sense. From a water standpoint as much as from a conservation standpoint," says Gottlieb.

One of the things that happens when you have a native plant garden, is that you attract the native bird species. Gottlieb says, "I started my garden in 1990, approximately, so it's a pretty mature garden now. It came out of my interest in birds. I realized in traveling around California how much water we waste. I mean, when you look at the lawns in this city [Beverly Hills/Los Angeles] being watered and over-watered and water going down the drains, it just makes me nuts. And the bird species are continually without places to land. The Pacific flyway is practically devoid of water. And that's why birds will land almost anywhere; that's why they land in people's pools, wherever they see something that they think is water, they'll go to it."

The Theodore Payne Foundation can be reached by calling (818) 768-1802. They are holding a Free talk, "Designing California Native Plant Gardens," on Saturday April 12th at 6:30 pm at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Holllywood.

Adds, Novick, "Los Angeles is not a desert. That is a completely wrong conception many residents hold. A desert gets 3-4 inches of rain a year, we get on average 8-12 inches." Hence, there are many beautiful and diverse native plant species here in Southern California.