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Arkansas Master Naturalists

HomeArkansas Wild Spaces

Arkansas Wild Spaces
Helping You Bring Nature to Your Yard

Have you ever seen hummingbirds courting? Ever watched a bee “buzz pollinate” a flower? Enjoyed the beauty of a cedar waxwing eating berries? Observing nature is deeply satisfying and engages us on a deep level unlike any other experience. You can drive to a national park to see nature, or, you can bring it into your yard to be a part of your everyday life! And nature is in trouble—loss of native habitat and other causes are resulting in huge losses in populations of many different kinds of wildlife.

The Central Arkansas Master Naturalists are committed to planting native species to bring back nature and restore ecosystems, and removing non-native invasive plant species. The Arkansas Wild Spaces program is based on the work of Douglas Tallamy. Our habitat advisors will visit yards of homeowners in the Central Arkansas area and advise you on how to restore native plants and animal habitat.

We offer Arkansas Wild Spaces certification for yards.  For the standards, see below.  

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In his bestselling book Nature’s Best Hope, published in 2020, Doug Tallamy explains how nature is in trouble because of the destruction of native habitat for insects, birds, and other animals. This loss of natural habitat has led to the loss of 95% of the natural environment in the United States and now threatens the ability of ecosystem services to sustain us.

But research by Tallamy and others has shown that we can enjoy and sustain wildlife in our own yards by planting the “right kind” of native plants—native trees, shrubs, vines and herbaceous plants (flowering plants, grasses, sedges, and ferns). Native trees and shrubs, like oaks and Chickasaw plums, provide leaves that feed caterpillars, an important food source for baby birds. Other trees and shrubs, like hickories and chokeberries, provide food to birds and mammals during the fall and winter. Herbaceous plants provide leaves to herbivores, nectar and pollen to pollinators (especially bees), nesting sites for birds and insects, and seeds to birds and other animals. Planting the right plants will bring nature to your yard and enable native wildlife to reproduce, rather than dwindle away and disappear.

What do we mean by the right plants? The plants that sustain the most life. Did you know that an oak growing in central Arkansas is food for over 400 species of caterpillars? But a Bradford pear will feed at most only one or two species. Did you know that monarch butterflies, which are on the verge of being classified as an endangered species, only lay their eggs on milkweed plants? Milkweed is disappearing across the U.S. as its habitat is destroyed by development and agricultural practices. As milkweed disappears so do the monarchs, but planting a group of milkweeds in your yard will help sustain and restore their populations.

Tallamy describes planting natives as the opportunity to have a “homegrown national park” in your yard. Enough such yards will create wildlife corridors and conservation areas. Arkansas Wild Spaces habitat advisors will visit your yard and advise you on native plants to add to create your own homegrown national park.

When you plant natives in your yard, a Tallamy-connected website allows you to post that information on a national map.

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Non-native plants are those introduced from other ecosystems that have not evolved together with the native plants and animals over thousands of years. Invasive plants are those that reproduce and grow aggressively. Non-native invasive plants are host plants for few or no caterpillars, and crowd out and replace native plants. Arkansas Wild Spaces habitat advisors will identify any non-native invasive plants in your yard and tell you how to best remove them.

Some of the worst and most prevalent non-native invasive plants in Arkansas are:

·      Bradford (Callery) pear

·      English ivy

·      Chinese privet

·      Japanese honeysuckle

·      Sacred bamboo (Nandina)

Non-native invasive plants are often extremely difficult to remove. Arkansas Wild Spaces will provide you with a report listing any such plants present in your yard and referring you to information on how best to remove them.

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Native plants are those that have co-evolved with central Arkansas native species of plants and animals for thousands of years. They not only serve as habitat for wildlife but also are food for insects, birds, and other animals. Studies have shown that some native plants feed many more species than others. For example, oak leaves are food for more 400 species of caterpillars, whereas the Bradford pear hosts only one species. If your yard contains only Bradford pear trees, you’ll have many fewer caterpillars than a neighbor’s yard with oak trees. Caterpillars are extremely important to food webs because so many animals eat them, most notably baby birds. Almost all babies of backyard birds must have many caterpillars or they won’t survive. A brood of baby chickadees must eat 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars until they reach maturity. Trees and shrubs that host the most species of caterpillars are called keystone species, because they are essential to an ecosystem. Do you know the top five tree and shrub genera in terms of caterpillar species hosted?

·      Oaks (420)

·      Cherries and plums (285)

·      Birches (221)

·      Hickories and pecans (220)

·      Willows (215)

But keystone species aren’t the only ones that we need to plant. Some insects are specialists, able to eat only a few species of plants. The monarch butterfly is the most famous example of a specialist, being restricted to a diet solely of milkweed plants. No milkweed plants mean no monarch caterpillars, and no monarch butterflies. All over the United States, monarch habitat is being destroyed because milkweeds are being killed by development and agriculture.

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1. Where can I buy native plants?

One of the handouts in the resource packet you'll receive when we visit your yard is a list of native plant sellers, both in central Arkansas and beyond. As native plants are becoming more popular, native plant sellers are increasing in number.

2. I'd like to learn more about why native plants are so important. Where should I look?

We recommend Nature's Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy, published in 2020. He has also made numerous video presentations that are on Youtube. Go to Tallamy's Hub for some recent presentations,

3. Will you design a landscape for me?

No. We provide education about why native plants are so important, identify non-native plants to remove, and recommend native plants, based on what you tell us and what we see when we visit your yard. We will recommend plants for certain spots to maximize habitat (food and shelter) but how you arrange them is up to you.

4. How does certification work?

Our habitat advisors will explain certification during the first yard visit. There are three levels and the certification standards (See AWS Certification Standards). Once you think you have met the Silver level, contact us and we'll visit your yard for no charge and assess whether you've met the standards. If so, your yard will be a certified Arkansas Wild Space and you'll be eligible to purchase a sign, at cost, to display.

5. How is your program different from Audubon and National Wildlife Federation certification programs?

We will visit your yard and give you specific recommendations, as well as answer your questions.

6. I live in a neighborhood with restrictive covenants. Can I plant natives?

Most likely yes. Most covenants restrict grass height but don't prevent you from planting flowering plants, shrubs, and trees. Also, most don't restrict what you plant in your back yard. Our habitat advisors can recommend "well behaved" native plants that will give your front yard a more formal look.

For a service fee payable at the time of the visit, Arkansas Wild Spaces will:

·       Educate you on why nature needs our help and what you can do

·       Identify non-native invasive species for removal

·       Recommend beneficial native plants

·       Recommend other stewardship practices to create and improve habitat

·       Give you a resource packet

·       Return for a second free certification visit

·       Send you emails with notices of plant sales, webinars, gardening tips, etc.

Service fee:

·       For yards of less than ½ acre, $30

·       For two next-door neighbors who sign up together, $40 total

·       For yards of ½ acre or more, $60

·       CAMN members receive a $10 discount

To receive a visit, fill out the Land Steward Application and Pledge or download the  application, fill it out and email it to

AWS Certification Standards


P.O. Box 251180

Little Rock, AR 72225


State and National Agency Partners