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Why Native Plants Matter

What is a native plant?

The term “native” plant generally refers to plants indigenous to a particular geographic region. Over time those plants have adapted to local environmental and social influences such as soil types and hydrology, micro-climates and human influences.

Redbud (Cercis occidentals), a spring bloomer and water-wise California native plant, entices a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. Eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis) is native to the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Why are native plants important?

Native plants play a very important role in our ecosystems. As ecologists, wildlife biologists and entomologist have shown, native plant species are more favorable for supporting local wildlife, including insects such as bees and butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Native plants feed the creatures at the bottom of the food web that then provide meals for creatures on the next ring of the web, such as the birds and toads that visit our yards.

In addition to providing resources for local wildlife, native species evolve for survival. Consequently, they tend to be more naturally adapted to local growing conditions and often require fewer inputs (for example, fertilizer or water) for successful establishment. That can mean reduced maintenance – more time to enjoy your yard instead of working in your yard.

Substitute a Native Plant for a Non-native Invasive Plant

Common invasive Plant Native Alternative
Norway Maple Acer platonoides Sugar Maple Acer saccharum
Burning Bush Euonymus alatus corymbosum Highbush Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum
Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii Chokeberry Aronia arbutifolia
Oriental Bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus Virginia Creeper Parthenicissus guinquefolia
Glossy Buckthorn Rhamus frangulo Arrowwood Viburnum dentatum
Common Buckthorn Rhamus cathartica Witch Hazel Hamamelis virginiana
Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria Gayfeather Liatris spicata
Multiflora Rose Rosa mulliflora Pasture Rose Rosa Carolina
Tatarian Honeysuckle Lonicera tatarica Serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia
Morrow’s Honeysuckle Lonicera morrowii Spicebush Lindera benzoin
Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolaria Bee Balm Monarda didyma
Goutweed Aegopodium podagraria Wintergreen Goultherio procumbens

How can I find out more about native plants?

ELA offers an archive of newsletter articles with a wealth of information on beautiful options for planting native ground covers, perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees. Articles offer information on many aspects of native plant, including which are edible, which are suited to particular conditions, which support pollinators. You can find out more about how to incorporate native plant species into your landscapes.

Articles about Native Plants

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In addition to ELA, there are many other native plant resources across the country. Many states have an organization dedicated to information about native plants and where to buy them. The American Horticultural Society offers a list by state. Here are a few other good resources to know about as you explore native plants:

Grow Native Massachusetts

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

National Wildlife Federation

USDA Forest Service

Wild Ones

Who can help me with native plants?

An educated ecological landscape professional considers a plant’s ecological function, its role in both the micro and macro landscape. For example, a plant may be able to provide food or habitat for wildlife, help regulate or control the flow of water through a landscape, and contribute to overall soil health by supporting beneficial microorganisms. Not all plants are created equal and to maximize the benefits of any plant, a professional can consider all aspects of your site and help you choose and site plants in the landscape.

Browse the list of ecological landscape professionals (Eco-Pros)

Continue your education on native plants and learn about other ecological land care practices with the Ecological Landscape Alliance (ELA). Founded in 1991, ELA advocates for environmentally responsible stewardship of land and natural resources in landscaping and horticultural practices of both professionals and the public. Through education, collaboration, and networking, ELA promotes the design, installation, and maintenance of landscapes that are guided by a knowledge of and respect for natural ecosystems. (Read more)

The Ecological Landscape Alliance (ELA) is a non-profit organization of dedicated landscape professionals, individual gardeners, and community groups who

  • Believe in using environmentally-sound landscape practices
  • Believe that natural systems are the best guide for learning how to develop and maintain healthy landscapes
  • Value methods based upon scientific studies and practical experience
  • Are committed to educating ourselves and others about ecological landscape methods
  • Believe a network of dedicated people can be a powerful agent for change

Sign up for ELA’s free newsletter and begin learning more today.