Why Use Native Plants
What are native plants?
Generally speaking, the term “native plant” refers to those present in various North American ecological regions prior to European settlement. Though some gardeners prefer to use plants native to a state, or even county – and there is nothing wrong with that approach - it must be remembered that plants and animals are disbursed throughout various geographic regions that share ecological and environmental attributes, irrespective of state or county lines.
More detailed information about the Level 1 and Level 2 eco-regions overlaying Michigan can be found here.
Why use native plants?
Native plants have many compelling attributes that should give them preference in your garden planting plans:
- Preservation of floral and faunal diversity. Ecologically, the environments around us were created to work synergistically as a functional whole. The plants, insects, birds, mammals, etc. present in a given habitat are designed to work together to meet each other’s needs, and that includes us. Plants are the bedrock of the food web, or energy chain, that starts with the Sun. Solar energy is passed through plants, via photosynthesis, through herbivorous insects and animals, and on to carnivores and people in the form of the foods we eat. Of course, plants also convert carbon dioxide into the oxygen we all need to survive. It is well established that non-native plants do not support the variety and numbers of insects, either as food or host-plant sites, as do native plants.
- Aside from offering less food and reproductive support to our native insects, non-native plants may be actively harmful by out-competing native species, robbing them of water, soil nutrients, sunlight and even a place to live. This is what is meant by the term “invasive species”. At their worst, invasive plant species become “monocultures” devoid of other plant species that would have provided food for native insects and places for them to complete their life-cycle. Though a few native plants spread more aggressively than others, few are considered truly invasive.
- Though some native plants have specific growing requirements, they are typically easier to grow and care for than non-native plants. They were designed to adapt to the climate and environments present in their native eco-regions and once established, generally do not require any additional water, fertilizers, pesticides, pruning, etc. Selected and sited according to the sun, soil, and moisture typical of their native environments, they should thrive with little outside help.
- Native plants provide the pollen and nectar needed by native pollinators, and other insects, to survive and a place for butterflies to lay their eggs.