Back: Table of Contents
WHY USE NATIVE PLANTS?
A native (indigenous) species is one that occurs in a particular region, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions (Kartesz and Morse 1997; Richards 1998). Species native to North America are generally recognized as those occurring on the continent prior to European settlement.
Although only about 737 native plant species are protected by the Endangered Species Act, it is estimated that nearly 25 percent of the 20,000 native plant species in North America are at risk of extinction. It is becoming generally recognized that in order to preserve individual species, their plant communities must be preserved. This includes the preservation of native plants that are not yet in danger of extinction, but still play an important role in native ecosystems.
As the public becomes more concerned about the environment, the interest in the preservation and restoration of native plant communities increases as well. Native plants are valued for their economic, ecological, genetic, and aesthetic benefits in addition to the growing societal belief in their intrinsic value as living species.
In 1969 Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that provides statutory protection of natural ecosystems on federal lands, and also offers the public the opportunity to consider the environmental implications of revegetating federal landscaped with introduced versus native plants (Richards 1998). Then in 1995, 9 federal agencies and 53 organizations created the Native Plant Conservation Initiative National Strategy for the protection of native plants. Work on the National Strategy is continued today by the Plant Conservation Alliance.
Using native plants to restore the landscape or as a substitute for exotic ornamental plantings can help to reverse the trend of species loss. Although the methods may differ, native plants require the same level of care in installation and establishment as do ornamental plants. If the environment has been altered significantly through human activities, some work will be necessary to recreate an environment more hospitable to natives. However, in the long run, natives will, in most cases, form self-sustaining plant communities that do not require much maintenance. Because they are adapted to a local region, they tend to resist damage from freezing, drought, common diseases, and herbivores if planted in that same local region.
Native plant species provide the keystone elements for ecosystem restoration. Native plants help to increase the local population of native plant species, providing numerous benefits. There are specific associations of mycorrhizae with plants, invertebrates with woody debris, pollinators with flowers, and birds with structural habitat that can only be rebuilt by planting native plants.
Advantages of native plants:
- add beauty to the landscape and preserve our natural heritage
- provide food and habitat for native wildlife
- serve as an important genetic resource for future food crops or other plant-derived products
- help slow down the spread of fire by staying greener longer
- decrease the amount of water needed for landscape maintenance
- require very little long-term maintenance if they are properly planted and established
- produce long root systems to hold soil in place
- protect water quality by controlling soil erosion and moderating floods and droughts
Next: Planning A Native Plant Project