What Are Native Plants?

I am sure as gardeners, many of you have heard about native plants before. They are becoming more and more popular with gardeners for many reasons. They require less maintenance, they are easier to grow, they attract myriad wildlife such as butterflies and songbirds and many more reasons.

But in order to use them effectively in the garden, we first need to define them properly. But what exactly makes a plant native? It’s not uncommon to come across multiple definitions of a native plant based upon who you ask. How and why a plant is native, where is it native to and where and when do we draw the line of what makes a plant native?

Despite this, native plants are best defined by examining their ecological role, in other words, how they interact with other plants and animals in the environment.

 A native plant is a plant that has evolved in a certain area over enough time to develop complex and dynamic relationships with the surrounding ecology.

What this means is that, plants do not grow isolated from the other living things around them. They are constantly interacting and forming relationships with surrounding plants and animals. Over long periods of time, these plants and animals have co-evolved with each other and therefore have become dependent on one another for survival. It is these interactions between plants and animals which form healthy, stable ecosystems.

We Need Native Plants In Our Gardens

The reason native plants are so important is because they have evolved to be a healthy and vital part of an ecosystem. The relationships they have developed with local flora and fauna contribute to the ecosystems ability to support life, including human life.

Unfortunately, as humans expand our reach across the globe, our native plants are disappearing. We adorn our suburbs and cities with non-native ornamental plants and large expanses of lawn. Non-native ornamental plants, including lawn, provide very little value to wildlife as they have not evolved to use these plants. This is a recipe for an ecological collapse unlike anything humans have seen before. As we replace our native flora and fauna from our cities, we reduce the ecosystems ability to support human and non-human life alike.

Here are the top reasons to add native plants to your garden:

Support Local Wildlife
Local wildlife has adapted to reply on native plants. When we choose non-native plants for our gardens we are taking food away from birds, bees and butterflies! Wildlife are an important part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem so when we support their needs we are also supporting ours. A garden is always more beautiful when butterflies and songs birds adorn it!

Provide Ecosystem Services
Without local wildlife biodiversity life could not exist on earth. All organisms function together to provide valuable ecological services which make life on earth possible. Some of these services include: supplying fresh oxygen and water, recycling nutrients, mitigating severe weather such as floods and droughts and regulating climate. The more we remove native plants from our landscapes the more we lose these valuable services.

Low Maintenance
Native plants have evolved and adapted to local soil, climate and pest conditions. By choosing native plants you eliminate the need for watering, fertilizing, and spraying chemicals on your garden. Once established, native plants can take care of themselves.

Beautify Your Garden
There are thousands of species of native plants to choose from, many have showy and unique flowers not often seen in urban landscapes. Make your garden stand out from the rest and choose beautiful native plants!

Reduce your carbon footprint
By replacing part of your lawn with native plants you can not only save time and money, but you can help reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed by mowing your lawn. The mowing of lawns contributes a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere. Native plants also don’t require artificial fertilizers which are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Many native plants have deep roots which help store more carbon in the ground than a conventional lawn.

 

As you can see, native plants are an essential part of healthy ecosystems which make life on earth possible.But native plants shouldn’t be overlooked in our urban landscapes. By choosing native plants in our gardens and landscapes we can take steps to ensure that our ecosystems remain functional and healthy for years to come.