What is a Native Plant?
Native plants (also called indigenous plants) are plants that have evolved over thousands of years in a particular region. They have adapted to the geography, hydrology, and climate of that region. Native plants occur in communities, that is, they have evolved together with other plants. As a result, a community of native plants provides habitat for a variety of native wildlife species such as songbirds and butterflies.
Why Should I Use Native Plants?
It seems far too simple to be meaningful, but planting native trees, shrubs, and other vegetation is one of the most effective ways to restore natural habitats and to improve water quality. Since plants are the foundation of food chains, restoring natural wildflowers, shrubs, and forest cover is a critical part of any effort to restore habitats. The benefits are many.
- Native plants provide a beautiful, hardy, drought resistant, low maintenance landscape while benefiting the environment.
- Native plants, once established, save time and money by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water and lawn maintenance equipment.
- Native plants do not require fertilizers.
Vast amounts of fertilizers are applied to lawns. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen (the main components of fertilizers) run off into lakes and rivers causing excess algae growth. This depletes oxygen in our waters, harms aquatic life and interferes with recreational uses.
- Native plants require fewer pesticides than lawns.
Nationally, over 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns each year. Pesticides run off lawns and can contaminate rivers and lakes. People and pets in contact with chemically treated lawns can be exposed to pesticides.
- Native plants require less water than lawns.
The modern lawn requires significant amounts of water to thrive. In urban areas, lawn irrigation uses as much as 30% of the water consumption on the East Coast and up to 60% on the West Coast. The deep root systems of many native Midwestern plants increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.
- Native plant systems hold water and soil.
Forests, wetlands, and prairie systems act like sponges, soaking up vast amounts of and slowly releasing it into streams and groundwater reserves. Plant roots hold soils in place and when vegetation dies the nutrients replenish the soil.
- Native plants help reduce air pollution, consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
Natural landscapes do not require mowing. Lawns, however, must be mowed regularly. Gas powered garden tools emit 5% of the nation’s air pollution. Forty million lawnmowers consume 200 million gallons of gasoline per year. One gas-powered lawnmower emits 11 times the air pollution of a new car for each hour of operation. Excessive carbon from the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming. Native plants sequester, or remove, carbon from the air.
- Native plants provide shelter and food for wildlife.
They provide shade and relief from the heat. Native plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing diverse habitats and food sources. Closely mowed lawns are of little use to most wildlife. Native habitats are also good for people; native trees and other plants provide shade and reduce water loss from soil.
- Native plants promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage.
In the U.S., approximately 20 million acres of lawn are cultivated, covering more land than any single crop. Native plants are a part of our natural heritage. Natural landscaping is an opportunity to reestablish diverse native plants, thereby inviting the birds and butterflies back home.