A native plant is one that is indigenous to an area, meaning that it’s there naturally, without any human influence. By contrast, if a species is brought into an area by humans, it’s called an ‘introduced species.’ The definition can be somewhat blurred over time since ‘area’ is both a political and geographical concept that changes as time passes. In any case, you can think of a native plant as any naturally occurring grass, plant, flower or tree. Native plants are an important part of a healthy local ecosystem and are particularly important to insects, since insects rely on plants as a food source and plants use insects as pollinators. Together they form a ‘natural community.’ Native plants are also crucial to the survival of birds. Entomologist Doug Tallamy’s studies have shown that native oak trees support more than 500 species of caterpillars, whereas gingko trees, commonly planted trees imported from Asia, only host 5 species of caterpillars. It takes more than six thousand caterpillars to feed a nest of baby chickadees – so as you can see there’s a big difference between the two species!
As humans move in to new places, they tend to bring plants with them, where the plants may become invasive species. Invasive species hurt the local ecosystem since they didn’t evolve in a balance with it, and hog resources. Many government agencies and environmental groups are addressing these invasive species by trying to reintroduce native plants and restore local ecologies.
What are some of the specific benefits of native plants?
- Low maintenance – once a native plant species is established, it hardly requires any maintenance.
- Aesthetics – many native plants have bright flowers and produce lots of seeds and fruit. Native plants also dazzle with their seasonal changes from bright greens to vibrant yellows, oranges and reds.
- Combating climate change – native plants are sustainable, so less machinery has to be powered by gasoline to take care of the plants. Another benefit is that long lived trees, maples and oaks, for example, are effective at combating CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas which is a major contributor to global warming.
- Using less chemicals – this helps prevent phosphorus and nitrogen runoff into lakes and rivers and helps protect our water sources and the animals and insects.
- Adaptability – native plants conserve water as they are adapted to local conditions.
- Saving wildlife – native plants provide crucial habitats for birds, moths and butterflies, as well as mammals like squirrels and chipmunks that depend on their fruits and seeds.
- Cost effectiveness – studies have shown that over a 20 year period, maintaining an acre of wetlands is nearly 7 times less expensive as maintaining non-native turf grasses.
Taken together, all these benefits make a compelling case for using native plants – beautiful plants, grasses and trees that require fewer resources, less maintenance and cost less money while also promoting a healthy ecosystem are perfect for your next project. Help conserve biodiversity and native habits – shop our selection of native plants today for your next yard or gardening project.