Whether you live in a city apartment with a small balcony or a countryside property with acres of land, you can have an effect on the ecological world around you. We are all stewards of the spaces we occupy, even if it is only temporary. Choosing native plants for gardening projects will help make our collective efforts to restore balanced ecosystems more effective.
What is a Native Plant?
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.’ Native plants are an important part of a healthy local ecosystem primarily because they support food webs in ways that introduced plants do not. For example, entomologist Dr. Doug Tallamy’s studies have shown that native oak trees support more than 500 species of caterpillars. On the other hand, gingko trees, commonly planted trees introduced from Asia, only host 5 species of caterpillars. It takes more than six thousand caterpillars to feed a single nest of baby chickadees. As you can see, there’s a big difference between the two species and their ability to support local wildlife!
What are some of the specific benefits of native plants?
- Low maintenance– native plants can require less maintenance than their non-native counterparts as long as you choose the correct plant for your site. This doesn’t mean that native plants are completely maintenance-free: native species may still need occasional pruning or dividing. This provides a great opportunity to share with friends!
- 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 sequestering CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas which is a major contributor to global warming.
- Fewer chemicals– native plants don’t require herbicides and insecticides to keep them beautiful. This helps prevent phosphorus and nitrogen runoff into lakes and rivers and helps protect our water sources as well as animals and insects.
- Adaptability– native plants require less manual watering 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. Birds have experienced record losses over the past 50 years, but you can help expand their habitat and food sources by planting native plants.
- Combatting invasive species – Invasive species hog resources and hurt the local ecosystem since they aren’t as beneficial to local fauna. As stewards we can help prevent their spread by monitoring for and removing them when found. Planting a full, healthy garden with natives helps prevent invasive plants from establishing a foothold.
Taken together, all these benefits make a compelling case for using native plants. Beautiful plants that require fewer resources and less maintenance 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.
Want to stay up-to-date with all of our Native News? Sign up for our email newsletter!
Originally published October 16, 2018.