What are Native Plants and Why Use Them?
What is a native plant? According to the Plant Conservation Alliance, a native plant is “one that occurs in a particular region, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions." The Plant Conservation Alliance is a public-private partnership that works to protect native plants by ensuring that native plant populations and their communities are maintained, enhanced, and restored.
Native plants support our ecosystem. Native plants play a critical role in the health of our ecosystem by supporting biodiversity and wildlife. Native species are adapted to our local environment and are best suited to our native wildlife. A native landscape is a living landscape with a wide assortment of beneficial insects, birds, and pollinators that create a balanced system. Recent research indicates that homeowner use of nonnative plants can reduce the populations of our native birds (see "Nonnative plants reduce population growth of an insectivorous bird," by Desiree L. Narango, Douglas W. Tallamy, and Peter P. Marra, PNAS November 6, 2018 at
Native plants are an integral part of a sustainable landscape. A sustainable landscape is one that seeks to create and maintain a balanced ecosystem and handle stormwater runoff by mimicking the natural environment. Sustainable landscapes control stormwater onsite rather than sending it into our eroded streams and rivers. They do this by featuring natural systems of water management such as rain gardens, conservation landscapes, or dry bed streams and swales. Native plants play a key role in this process because they absorb stormwater runoff more effectively than lawns and non-native plant species.
Native plants create striking, naturalistic landscapes. A sustainable landscape populated by a diverse assortment of native plants is naturally beautiful. In addition, compared to a traditional landscape, a sustainable landscape can require less maintenance and allows the homeowner to embrace and enjoy nature, rather than work against it.
What about nonnative plants? Nonnative plants can be intentionally integrated into a sustainable landscape if they support certain design objectives and are not invasive or overly aggressive. For example, evergreen nonnative, non-invasive plants may be used for screening purposes. However, a goal of 70% native plants is recommended to obtain ecological benefits.
Where can I learn more about native plants? Check out these additional resources:
Habitat Gardening for Wildlife, Virginia Master Gardener Handbook, 2015. https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/habitat-gardening.pdf
Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council (CCLC) Eight Essential Elements of Conservation Landscaping, 2013. https://www.chesapeakelandscape.org/resources/the-eight-essential-elements/
United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Native Plants, Chesapeake Watershed Guide, 2003. https://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/pdf/NativePlantsforWildlifeHabitatandConservationLandscaping.pdf
Native Plant Center at http://www.nativeplantcenter.net/.