Why Native Plants?

Minnesota native plants are those species that grew here naturally before European settlers arrived and began introducing plants from other areas. In the book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota, Lynn Steiner explains the importance of native plants:

Unlike most introduced plants, a native plant fully integrates itself into a biotic community, establishing complex relationships with other local plants and animals. Not only does a native plant depend on the organisms with which it has evolved, but the other organisms also depend on it, creating a true web of life. This natural system of checks and balances ensures that native plants seldom grow out of control in their natural habitats.

Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist, recently wrote a very compelling book, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. His research shows that most native insects either cannot or will not eat non-native plants. Most insects are specialists and only eat plants with which they share an evolutionary history. Insects play a very important role in ecosystems. In fact, 96% of birds rely on insects and spiders to feed to their young. To protect biodiversity, we need to restore native plants wherever possible, including in our yards.

Tallamy describes how we have turned our yards into sterile environments:

All too often the first step in the suburbanization of an area is to bulldoze the plant assemblages native to our neighborhoods and then to replace them with large manicured lawns bordered by a relatively few species of popular ornamentals from other continents. Throughout suburbia, we have decimated the native plant diversity that historically supported our favorite birds and mammals.

Habitat destruction is widespread across the state. In Minnesota’s Natural Heritage: An Ecological Perspective, John Tester states that less than 1% of the tallgrass prairie remains. Nearly all of the Big Woods has been cleared for agriculture. Most of the red and white pine stands have been logged. Loss and degradation of habitat has been the primary cause of species becoming rare and endangered. Back in 1989, Minnesota had listed 57 species (plant and animal) as endangered, 49 as threatened, and 181 of special concern.

So little habitat remains for our wildlife, that we need to do what we can, where we can. Even a non-native plant that appears to do no harm is taking space that could be occupied by a native species. Not to mention that non-native plants often become invasive and compete unfairly with the native species.

We often hear that native plants don’t require much watering or pesticides. But the most compelling reason to garden with native plants is that our ecosystems are depending on us. Tallamy goes on to say,

… Gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to “make a difference.” In this case, the “difference” will be to the future biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.

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One Response to “Why Native Plants?”

  1. EcoStrides » Blog Archive » Bye-bye turfgrass. Hello native plants! Says:

    […] EcoStrides Enjoying and protecting nature, one step at a time « Why Native Plants? […]

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