Bird-Friendly Communities

Durham Plant List Gets Bird-friendly Makeover

New Hope Audubon recommends taking 72 invasive plants off the table for Durham development.

As part of North Carolina’s growing movement to make native plants the first choice for local and state governments, Durham City Council and County Commission members are considering a suite of changes proposed by New Hope Audubon and others that would make landscaping standards friendlier to birds in Durham city and county.

If approved, the changes would remove 72 nonnative invasive plants from the Durham Landscape Manual. These invasive species—plants like Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and leatherleaf mahonia (Berberis bealei, formerly Mahonia bealei)—can crowd out native vegetation that birds and other pollinators depend on for food and shelter. In addition, the proposed changes will prohibit English ivy (Hedera helix), which is currently allowed for screening purposes.

New Hope Audubon Society worked with TreesDurham and Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association leaders, along with landscape professionals, developers, and city-county planning staff, to propose the landscape manual update. Native plants are already first choice for New Hope Audubon Society leaders and owners of 200 properties participating in their bird-friendly yard certification program.

Barbara Driscoll, Lynn Richardson, and Pete Schubert—all members of New Hope Audubon Society’s Bird-Friendly Habitat Committee—scrutinized the existing landscape manual for invasive plants, making recommendations on specific plant species that should be prohibited.

The group also recommended changes to the landscape manual that emphasize native plants, consistent with the City of Durham’s Sustainability Roadmap and the Durham County Sustainability Report. The proposed landscape manual changes will add eco-friendly landscaping tips such as using less turf, landscaping in layers, and allowing leaves to remain under trees and shrubs.

“More native plants will lead to healthy insect populations, which in turn will ensure birds can feed their chicks,” said Barbara Driscoll, president of New Hope Audubon Society. “Everything is interconnected. When our environment is healthy, people also thrive.”

The information included in the landscape manual applies to all new development in Durham, as well as any major renovations to existing properties.

“This is a wonderful story of government, non-profit organizations, and citizens coming together to make our environment healthier for not only birds, but people in our community as well,” said Katie Rose Levin, executive director of TreesDurham. “It’s something our community needs more of.”

The Joint City-County Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the proposed changes move forward at its Oct. 7 meeting. The Durham City Council is expected to vote on the proposed changes December 7 and the Durham County Commission December 14.

New Hope Audubon Society is the latest Audubon chapter in North Carolina to partner with city and county staff to remove invasive plants and emphasize native plants, which provide dramatically more of the food resources birds need.

Other municipalities with updated plant lists include the Town of Matthews (partnering with Mecklenburg Audubon), the City of Winston Salem and Forsyth County (partnering with Forsyth Audubon). Watauga County passed a resolution to use and promote native plants on county owned property in March at the request of High Country Audubon Society and the High Country Restoration Coalition. Wake County passed a resolution in support of native plants in 2018.

At the state level, Senate Bill 606, passed in 2019, requires the NC Department of Transportation to prioritize native species of trees, grasses, and legumes when the agency plants vegetation along highways. Similarly, House Bill 77, passed earlier this year, requires towns and cities to prioritize native plants along state-funded local roads.

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