Why Native Plants?
If you are new to the concept of native plants, the short answer for why you should plant them is simply: they belong here.
For millions of years our native species have evolved and adapted to survive in the spaces we now occupy. Temperature, precipitation, humidity, soil type, seasonal changes, and symbiotic relationships with other organisms are all factors that have influenced and designed the very species that you will find in your closest natural areas or if you’re lucky, your own backyard. These plants are connected to the local ecology and belong to a system that depends on them to thrive. It is easy to overlook the impact of these small but extremely important relationships. Insects have the closest relationship with natives, often depending on one specific genus or species for their survival.
One of the most famous pollinators, the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), depends on Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to reproduce and feed its larval stage. Without Milkweeds, Monarchs would cease to exist. Since Milkweed is an early successional species, it thrives in disturbed areas such as farmlands or roadsides. As more of these habitats are sprayed with herbicide or mowed, the number of Monarchs decline in correlation with Milkweed numbers.
As humans, we depend on native pollinators for not only ecological balance, but also our own food production. With the construction of towns and cities, we have displaced so much of our local flora. Existing populations of native species have become fragmented, leading to a decline in genetic health. By planting natives in our yards and spaces, we create corridors for passing pollinators, which consequently will improve overall health of plant populations.
If supporting local ecosystems is not enough to persuade you, native plants provide many services that are beneficial to humans outside of their beauty. Many of these ecological services can be utilized as solutions to our modern-day issues such as water management and carbon sequestering. North American species of plants have evolved to develop extremely deep roots comparative to European or Asian species. The depth of these roots evolved to aid in the survival of drought or wildfires, and as a result, most of the plant's biomass exists underground. Not only do these deep roots help with taking carbon out of the air and storing it in the ground, they also greatly improve the soil’s ability to be infiltrated during precipitation events.
Although there are many more benefits to native plants, here we have shown that carbon footprints and water management can be greatly improved by working with nature rather than against it. Big differences in our environmental health can be made if everyone just added a few natives to their yard. We hope that you choose to do so and send many thanks to those that already have.
(image credit: Unknown)