Most of us have heard the term “native” when referencing plants, trees, and shrubs. What exactly does that mean? Let’s look at the definitions of native and non-native plants:
Native Plants evolved in a particular region, state, ecosystem, or habitat over a long period of time with no human interference. These plants have grown in community with other plant species, providing habitat for wildlife, and have worked together to provide a positive impact on the local ecosystem.
Native plants have also adapted themselves to local conditions such as heat, drought, and soil types. The natural plant community attracts wildlife that feeds on insects that would be detrimental to these plants, thereby reducing the need for heavy doses of insecticides. Nature in balance.
Non-Native Plants are plants that are introduced to an area in which they did not naturally evolve. These plants can be introduced intentionally or accidentally, and can have a negative impact on the local ecosystem. Some of these plants may have no natural predators in the new location allowing them to grow unchecked. This type of plant is called invasive.
Two perfect examples of non-native plants that became invasive in this area are Kudzu and Chinese Privet. Both are native to China and were brought to the U.S., Kudzu to help with soil erosion and Privet as an ornamental shrub. Kudzu now grows wild, smothering and strangling native plant communities and is referred to as “the plant that ate the South.” Chinese Privet can cause dense infestations reaching 30 ft. tall, displacing most native species and preventing growth of bottomland hardwood and upland pine forests.
When these invasive plants choke out native plants that provide food and shelter for local wildlife, the wildlife also begins to disappear. An out-of-balance condition is created in the ecosystem.
Select Plants, Trees, and Shrubs Wisely
When selecting plants for your landscaping, be sure to look for a list of plants, trees, and shrubs native to your location. Local nurseries would be happy to help you choose the perfect plants for your landscaping needs.
Contact your local Extension office for a list of native plants, or visit our wonderful new library for books and other publications on the subject.
A visit to the Huntsville Botanical Gardens would not only be a wonderful opportunity to see a variety of plants and their uses in the landscape, but would put you in contact with people who know the answers to your gardening questions!
When you choose plants that work well together and are suited to this area, nature will be more in balance, making your garden a welcoming habitat for local wildlife. Native plants and shrubs will provide seeds, nectar, and insects that will welcome birds, butterflies, and other wildlife back into your yard.
You might even consider adding a “Welcome” sign to your garden!
By: Lynne Hart