When you walk through your community, you likely see all kinds of different trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, herbs, and “weeds” all around you. But did you know that some of those plants offer tremendous ecological value while others are primarily aesthetic? The most beneficial plants are called “native,” and there are many reasons that you should try to plant more of them!
Below, we explain the difference between native and non-native plants and highlight the top benefits of incorporating more native species into your landscaping this year.
Differences Between Native and Non-Native Plants
While it is difficult for the average person to tell the difference between native and non-native plants just by looking at them, insects, birds, and mammals know (in most cases) exactly which plant species will support their need for food, shelter, and protection from predators. This is because native species of trees, shrubs, and other vegetation have naturally existed in their indigenous region for thousands of years. They have also coevolved with the species that depend on them. For that reason, native species are naturalized to their surrounding habitat and can survive in different conditions throughout the year.
On the other hand, non-native species are flora and fauna that would never have arrived in their non-indigenous region without human intervention. These species originated in a different location (often a different continent entirely) and were introduced by early colonizers or later imported by individuals or businesses for their ornamental value. In some cases, non-native species can naturalize over time without causing any trouble. However, many others can become invasive, crowd out native species, or confuse insects that are seeking a place to lay their eggs. Crowding out native species ultimately decreases biodiversity, making non-native plants less desirable for eco-conscious gardeners, landscapers, and nurseries.
Why You Should Plant More Native Plants
There are many reasons to plant more native species, including supporting local ecology, reducing garden maintenance, improving soil health, reducing flooding, and improving water quality. We explain each of these benefits in greater detail below.
Native Plants Support Local Ecology
As indicated above, native species of trees, shrubs, and other plants are vital for creating and maintaining biodiverse ecosystems. This is because they provide food sources and habitats that attract a variety of insects, birds, and mammals. Biodiversity is important as it helps keep our planet in balance and makes it more resilient to environmental challenges and natural disasters.
Did you know that biodiversity is also critical to human health and well-being? After all, we are also part of the ecosystem too! Without biodiversity, we would not have access to food, clean water, clean air, medicine, building materials, or fuel. Humans and plants would also be more vulnerable to diseases. So, protecting our local ecology is important for all living beings.
Native Plants Reduce Garden Maintenance
If you love to garden, you know that many plants purchased from your local garden centre or nursery require a lot of time, care, and attention throughout the growing season. Many face heavy pest pressure or rely on you to water them frequently. This is often because many of the most readily available plants at stores are actually non-native species.
Non-native species are acclimatized to areas in their native region, so they are equipped to handle those weather conditions, pests, and diseases. When they arrive or are grown in a new place, they can be less resilient than native alternatives that have adapted to the region over time.
Native species often require less frequent watering and can survive with a high level of neglect – just like they would in nature if left unattended! They also generally do not require pesticides or fertilizers, which is beneficial to humans, wildlife, and local waterways.
Native Plants Improve Soil Health
When compared to non-native plants, native species are also more effective at improving soil health. This is because native vegetation tends to have much deeper and more robust root systems than non-native species. Deep roots are effective at increasing soil fertility, promoting growth of beneficial microorganisms, increasing organic matter, improving soil structure, and reducing erosion. This makes native plants an ideal addition to your gardens or other areas around your property where you would like to increase soil fertility and structure.
Native Plants Reduce Flooding and Improve Water Quality
Due to their deep roots, native plant species also act like big sponges that absorb water more efficiently. This allows them to reduce storm runoff and decrease the frequency and severity of floods. Native vegetation is also more effective than non-native plants at filtering pollutants from soil and runoff water that would otherwise end up impacting waterways and aquatic species, which helps improve water quality overall. If that’s not enough, native plants also protect shorelines along rivers and streams that can recede or erode over time.
In conclusion, native species play a critical role in supporting the needs of mammals, birds, insects, and humans. In particular, they offer food, shelter, and protection from predators while also contributing to the overall health and well-being of humans.
Native plants are less maintenance than non-native plants because they have adapted to their indigenous region for hundreds of years, making them easy to take care of. They are also effective at improving soil strength and structure while also acting as a big sponge that reduces flooding and erosion.
The next time you visit your local garden centre or nursery, be sure to keep an eye out for local species. The planet and all the flora and fauna that call it home will thank you for it!
Interested in Learning More About Native Plants?
Are you ready to start planting more native trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants in your yard to increase biodiversity? Then follow the Knowlesville Art and Nature Centre on Facebook and Instagram! In partnership with The Tree Project, we post tips and information about native species in the Upper Wolastoq River Valley region. Join us for events and other learning opportunities throughout the year! You may also find our free Forest Nurseries Restoration Project resources helpful too!