WHAT ARE NATIVE PLANTS?
The EPA’s Green Landscaping Home Page defines native plants (also called indigenous plants) as the 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, animals, and microorganisms. As a result, a community of native plants in the landscape provides habitat for a variety of native wildlife species such as songbirds and butterflies.
BUT I SEE THE SAME PLANTS ALMOST EVERYWHERE I GO. DON’T MOST PLANTS GROW EVERYWHERE IN THE U.S.?
Many plants can indeed be grown in a variety of places around the nation — indeed, around the globe. But ideas about “proper” gardening and landscape design differ among human cultures. In the U.S., the prevailing ideas have English and European origins, giving rise to a tradition in which a high degree of regularity and homogeneity in landscape design has been considered desirable. And so you will see hostas growing in every garden from New York to Georgia, green lawns next to houses in the Arizona desert, and Norway maples shading playgrounds in the Great Plains. On the other hand, there have always been people who celebrate the environment that they live in by growing plants native to their area. Many use native plants in less formal, more natural designs.
WHY WOULD I WANT TO HAVE NATIVE PLANTS IN MY LANDSCAPE?
There are many good reasons for growing native plants in the landscape, or even in containers on your porch. You can save time and money on maintenance while enjoying the year-round beauty and variety of native plants. Moreover, native plants attract native wildlife such as butterflies and other insects, songbirds, and turtles. (The particular species of wildlife will depend on where you live and which plants you grow.)
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST REASONS TO GROW NATIVE PLANTS IN THE LANDSCAPE?
Because native species are adapted to a particular local climate, they are generally hearty plants that require little (if any) maintenance.
Save on the time, money, and effort that it takes to support a traditional garden or yard. For example, a patch of native meadow may require mowing only once or twice a year, in comparison to a traditional lawn which must be mowed every week.
Enjoy year-round variety in color and texture provided by the natives in your yard. Leaves, flowers, branches, and bark provide contrasts and interesting patterns in all seasons.
Native plants provide a source of food, cover, or shelter for wildlife. For example, the Viburnum species that are native to Eastern Pennsylvania produce berries in the autumn that are a popular food for a variety of birds – berries that are just the right size for consumption by the native birds of the region. And the berries provide a beautiful contrast to the foliage in your yard or in a vase on your table.
WHY WOULD PEOPLE WANT TO HAVE NATIVE PLANTS IN OTHER AREAS?
Industrial campuses, schoolyards, and parks are all good places to grow native plants. A patch of native meadow, forest, or stream can provide a small but fascinating world to explore for children and adults alike. A significant savings in maintenance costs can be the motivation for replacing acres of lawn with sub-regions of meadows, forests, or ponds.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH SPECIES OF PLANTS ARE NATIVE TO MY AREA?
This can be a challenge, because many landscapes in America have been altered through human intervention for hundreds or thousands of years (by Native Americans and, later, by European settlers). Even scientists may not be certain about the natural geographic range of many plant species. But help is out there! You can call or visit local nurseries that specialize in native plants. Another resource is your state or regional Native Plants Society. Many libraries and bookstores carry publications on native plants. You can search for “native plants” on the Internet, with a focus on your local area or region (for example, Middle Atlantic states, piedmont region). Once you begin to look, you will find a lot of information and people who are willing to discuss it and assist you with projects ranging from your own back yard to state and federal initiatives.
We have compiled a listing of several Native Plant Societies and like-minded organizations for your perusal. Feel free to visit these websites and use their rescources to help you add Native Plants to your landscape.