What is a native plant? Why should I care?
Let’s start with some definitions:
A native plant is generally described as a plant that occurs naturally in a region or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. It goes without saying that plants that are native to the area are superior to those that are not. This is due to their ability to thrive in the present soil and climate conditions and to supply native wildlife the appropriate food sources. There is no real need to fertilize or provide additional water once these plants are established, and native plants are naturally resistant to pest and disease. The less watering, fertilizing, and chemical control required, the more you contribute to the conservation and preservation of our water resources. The environment is then balanced. Native plants belong here. They are an earth-wise choice.
Adaptive plants are non-native species introduced to a region or habitat by humans but are proven to thrive in the present soil and climate conditions and are noninvasive. The keyword here is proven.
Invasive plants are non-native species introduced to a region or habitat by humans that spread and cause damage by crowding out native species, reducing biodiversity, altering the characteristics of the soil, and increasing the risk of fire.
Or English ivy…
So now that we have the more formal definitions out of the way, lets talk about the second question, “Why should I care?” Unfortunately, this is just a little blog post. Fortunately I will attempt to answer this question succinctly as books and books have been written about this very question. There is little debate about the mess that humans have made on this wonderful planet of ours. Have you noticed how truly amazing and powerful nature is without us? That should be answer enough…don’t mess with Mother Nature! Where the heck do you think the phrase, “Because I’m your mother!” came from? (thump on the head) But for those of you who want to know, I will elaborate.
Let’s take a look at the pros/cons of native plants:
Let’s start with the human benefits:
- Less watering
- Less fertilizing
- Less maintenance
- Less chemical pest control
In this case, less is truly more. All of the above reasons simply mean less money and effort from you. It seems that would be incentive enough. But, with each reason given there are greater benefits than monetary ones. This in itself is a whole other post, but if I could just point out one greater benefit it would be that of our health. The health of our bodies, minds, souls, and that of the planet.
Now the benefits to everything else:
- Less water …less runoff…less pollution…cleaner waterways
- Less fertilizing…less runoff…less pollution…cleaner waterways
- Less chemical pest control…less runoff…less contamination…cleaner waterways
- Greater food and habitat sources for butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife
- Greater biodiversity to reduce disease and pests
Now, really. Why would you not incorporate as many native plants into your yards and gardens? That should be the question asked. And the cons of using native plants…there aren’t any!
What is often heard are protests that go something like this…”But I grew up with this flower, and I want it in my yard” or “But native plants are just a bunch of weeds.” I could easily interject a snide comment or two when answering these questions…but I will refrain. What I would encourage you to do is find a native alternative for the shrub or flower that reminds you of your grandmother’s house or simply face the fact that you live in Arizona and that hydrangea is just not going to grow well.
And speaking of hydrangeas…did you notice how beautiful they are? They are NATIVE to parts of the Americas…doesn’t look much like a weed to me!
One point that cannot be stressed enough is the increasingly important role our urban and suburban landscapes play. Doug Tallamy, Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware says,
“If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that gardens are for beauty; they are a chance to express our artistic talents, to have fun with and relax in. And, whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is taken by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth and social status. But no one has taught us that we have forced the plants and animals that evolved in North America (our nation’s biodiversity) to depend more and more on human-dominated landscapes for their continued existence. We have always thought that biodiversity was happy somewhere out there “in nature;” in our local woodlot, or perhaps our state and national parks. We have heard nothing about the rate at which species are disappearing from our neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. Even worse, we have never been taught how vital biodiversity is for our own well-being.” (http://bringingnaturehome.net/native-gardening/gardening-for-life)
I strongly urge you to spend some time on Doug Tallamy’s website or pick up a copy of his latest book, Bringing Nature Home.
If all of the reasons given above are not convincing enough, I will end with this…
I know, it’s a cheap shot…like the politician kissing the babies…it’s not really fair.
It’s no secret that there is an alarming decrease in the number of monarch butterflies and bees. And it isn’t just monarchs and bees, but all butterflies and other pollinators. I can site various reasons, but loss of native food sources and habitat ranks right up at the top of the list. Remember how vital pollinators are to our food supply. I am pretty sure we haven’t figured out how to do without them.
So what can you do?
Transform your little piece of earth into a slice of heaven for the birds, bees, butterflies, and you. By using as many native plants in your outdoor space, you will be contributing to the health and well-being of our planet. And that includes you, your family, your friends, your neighborhood, and so on.
Hopefully, at this point, you are frantically mentally reviewing the plants in your outdoor space and conjuring up images of bulldozers. But, really, there is no need to bring in the demolition experts when you decide to start changing your plants out.
How should you start?
- Do your homework. There are many, many (did I mention there are many?) books and websites about native plants.
- Ask about native plants at your local nurseries…sorry but Home Depot and Lowe’s don’t count. But be careful because not all species are native. For example, dogwoods are native to the Southeast…but not all dogwoods. Kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa) are native to China even though they are adaptive to the area. The native tree (Cornus florida) is preferred.
- Start small and make your goal to have as many native plants in your space as possible. Then move to the adaptive plants as your next choice. But NEVER add a plant that is on the invasive species list.
- Call on someone who can help you out…me! (insert shameless self-promotion!) Together we can review what you have and how to go about transforming your outdoor space.
A list of South Carolina invasive species (you might be surprised) can be found at http://scnps.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/invasive-species-brochure-2011.pdf. A list for North Carolina can be found here http://www.ncwildflower.org/invasives/list.htm.