Lawrence resident helps advocate for more native plants


Traditional lawns look nice but aren’t particularly useful to nature, including birds and pollinating insects.

That was the takeaway message from an hourlong online panel discussion March 21, hosted by the Hoosier Environmental Council and featuring Lawrence resident Liz Masur, who is an at-large representative on the Lawrence Common Council.

Speaking for herself and not the council, Masur advocated for replacing large areas of lawn, also called turf grass — a non-native species — with native plants.

“Sustainable, native, pollinator-friendly plantings can benefit businesses, government facilities and homeowners,” she said. “They reduce landscaping costs, help the environment, improve residents’ health and beautify.”

Masur said there are some uses for turf grass — it’s great for playing fetch with a dog, for example.

“But we have over 20 million acres of turf grass in this country and we really don’t need that much,” she said. “This turf grass is a monoculture or green desert. It doesn’t provide any habitat.”

She argued that, over time, native grasses and plants cost less than traditional lawns, in part because they are better suited to the area and need less care. They naturally resist pests and have deeper root systems, which help them survive dry summers with less need for watering. Masur also noted that commonly used lawn care products can harm human health in addition to insects and animal species.

“Forty percent of the chemicals used by the lawn care industry are banned in other countries because they are carcinogens, and 40 to 60 percent of the fertilizer applied to lawns ends up in surface and groundwater, where it kills aquatic organisms and contaminates drinking water,” she said, adding that some of those chemicals have been linked to premature births and low birth-weight babies.

Native plants that could replace turf include native grasses and wildflowers. Milkweed, in particular, is an important native plant for monarch butterflies.

Masur said that Lawrence and other Indianapolis residents who want to replace their lawns with native plants can register with the City of Indianapolis to ensure that their native plantings don’t get mistaken for an unkempt lawn. For more about how to register, email [email protected].

Other speakers during the webinar were HEC Executive Director Sam Carpenter and HEC projects manager Jeni Jenkins.

The March 21 webinar focused on reasons why central Indiana residents should consider switching to native plants. Carpenter noted that additional webinars are planned — one is tentatively scheduled for April 24 with the Native Plant Society to provide tips on how to start planting more native species. A third webinar May 29 will focus on advocating with local government to work toward more native plants throughout the community.

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