Plants enable life on this planet, no wonder we have such a special relationship with our foliage offer, from bright colors, beautiful fragrances, shade, to protection from soil erosion just to name a few. However, the plants we choose can have a positive or negative affect on our environment, therefore it is important to understand the difference between native and invasive species before deciding what to plant in our gardens.
Native vs. Invasive Plants Defined
Native plants are endemic (indigenous) or naturalized to a given area in geologic time, invasive plants are not. Invasive plants are capable of spreading in a harmful manner thereby replacing native species or spreading plant diseases. Invasive is an adjective, and can be used to describe that which has a tendency of intruding one’s privacy. In this case invasive is synonym to aggressive.
Not all invasive plant species are created equal, they grow at different speeds, some may become the dominant plant in an area in only a few years and some only become invasive if left uncheck for a long period of time.
How do Invasive Plants Affect the Local Eco System?
Invasive plants often grow, hence spread faster, edging out the sometimes slower growing native plants. Invasive species are frequently maladapted to their new environment, therefore prone to plant disease and may require more water, an already scarce resource in many communities. Another problem are seeds that can be carried out of the area and infect other ecosystems.
Local ecosystems have developed over thousands of years and evolved into fine-tuned systems of give and take. Invasive plants may not supply the native insects, reptiles and birds with the nutrients they need to survive. Take an earthworm for example. It depends on its natural food to survive, if it dies the soil may be too dense to allow rain water to penetrate, hence the soil may not get irrigated properly. A bird that depends on worms as a food source may have to search for alternatives. Native bees may be unable to pollinate / forage on invasive plants in the region, requiring them to travel further or die.
It is easy to forget that insects and bacteria are a vital part of our ecosystem and depend on their environment. They affect our water systems and, for example, biodegrading trash. Changing their environment by taking away native plants inadvertently causes changes to insect and bacteria populations, in turn causing changes to the entire food chain and just like with invasive plants, may allow invasive insect or bacteria species to take over and upset the local ecosystem.
Ultimately planting invasive plants alter local habitats and reduce biodiversity.
What does it take to use Native Plants for Landscaping?
The basics for planting native are the same as planting invasive species. Consider the following:
- Does the area get full sun and for how long?
- Does the area have good drainage?
- Is the soil dry or wet?
- What is the ph of the soil?
The Internet is a great resource for learning which plants are native to your area and to find the nurseries that carry them. The websites will typically provide a listing of plants and their requirements including pictures and landscaping suggestions.
Contributing to the environment doesn’t always involve moving mountains or having tons of money. Every one of us has the ability to contribute to the health of our planet. Perhaps the next time you are looking for plants the non-invasive specie will be first one on your list. Native plant species are always a better fit for our local ecosystems. The often cost less to purchase and are easier to maintain than invasive plants and greatly benefit the environment.
For more information check out the following website: