NOW AVAILABLE for 41 states with free shipping: Add one of our native plant collections to your garden to help save birds, bees, butterflies, and more!

Shop Now

Keystone Plants by Ecoregion

Native plants are core to the wildlife garden. Intentional use of native plants, which have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife over millions of years, creates the most productive and sustainable wildlife habitat. While some plants play a singular role for one or limited types of wildlife, others are essential to the life cycle of many species. The local species of these plants vary by ecoregion, that is, areas where ecosystems (and the type, quality, and quantity of environmental resources) are generally similar. Keystone plant genera are unique to local food webs within ecoregions. Remove keystone plants and the diversity and abundance of many essential insect species, which 96% of terrestrial birds rely on for food sources, will be diminished. The ecosystem collapses in a similar way that the removal of the “key” stone in ancient Roman arch will trigger its demise.

The research of entomologist, Dr. Doug Tallamy, and his team at the University of Delaware have identified 14% of native plants (the keystones) support 90% of butterfly and moth lepidoptera species. The research of horticulturist Jarrod Fowler has shown that 15% to 60% of North American native bee species are pollen specialists who only eat pollen from 40% of native plants.

This data has been summarized by Level I Ecoregions along with top plants used by pollen specialist bees in the clickable lists below. In addition, approximately 4,000 genera of native plants that support over 11,000 lepidoptera can sorted by zip code in National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder.

For purposes of these lists, we have included critical plant genera and local species that host significant numbers of butterflies, moths, and pollen specialist bees. Without these “key” plants, the ecosystem and the wildlife would suffer.


Ecological Regions of North America
(Published by Commission for Environmental Cooperation)

Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

Learn More