What ARE Native Plants, Anyway?

Forest Friends
What ARE Native Plants, Anyway?

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of native plants in Forest Friends, but exactly what they are may remain a mystery. Basically, native plants are those that have grown in a particular area for hundreds or thousands of years and are part of an ecosystem where plants and animals support each other.

One example: a white oak (native) hosts more than 500 insects as opposed to a ginkgo (exotic, native to the Far East) hosts only 5. You may think that is a good thing (no “pests”!), but native insects do not destroy native plants. They nibble at them enough to grow and the insects, in turn, are kept in balance by our native birds. A clutch of Carolina chickadees needs around 9000 caterpillars to grow to fledgling stage!

Most of the trees (e.g. oaks, hickories, wild cherries, river birch, pecans, and both loblolly and longleaf pines) in our neighborhood are native, which is why we have a wealth of birdlife. Most of our shrubbery, on the other hand, is exotic. Many folks think that traditional Carolina landscape plants (e.g. camellias, sasanquas, gardenias, boxwood, and evergreen azaleas) are native, but they are not. These plants are mostly from Japan and China and host few native insects.

Think instead of blueberries, yaupon holly, beautyberry, spice bush, wax myrtle, and native azaleas. These and many others support pollinators, who in turn support our birds. And, by the way, more birds mean healthier people! Read more about why native plants are better for birds and people at the Audubon website…

All of this does not mean you should rip out your non-native landscaping, or that nothing but 100 percent native landscaping will do. Exotic plants have a place and can add interest and beauty to your yard. But as non-natives age out, think of replacing them with natives. Or if you have a yard of mostly turf (non-native), think of adding some native trees and shrubs, grasses, and vines! And stay tuned in the coming months for information on our next native tree give-away.

Many organizations offer great lists of native plants by area, but here is one from the National Wildlife Federation…

Email Valerie Marcil at forestfriends@sherwoodforestneighbors.org with questions.