Native Plants

include trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, ferns, mosses and all plants that evolved together for thousands of years as interdependent species in a particular regional ecosystem.

When plants and animals live together and interact over a long period of time, complex networks of interdependent relationships form between many species to create a healthy environment. The healthiest environments are those which usually have the greatest biodiversity, meaning the highest number of different kinds of species.

Trees depend on fungi for sustenance. Plants depend on insects and other animals to pollinate their flowers and spread seeds.  Insects depend on plants for food and reproduction. Birds depend on the insects for food.  And mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals depend on trees and plants for shelter and food.  Some of these relationships have been refined for such a long time that they are very specific–and fragile. For instance, many insects can only eat one particular species of plant or tree. When one species in an ecosystem is diminished, other species are impacted and also suffer. When a large number of species in an ecosystem are diminished, entire life support systems are at risk of being lost.

Non-Native Plants

include plants or trees introduced from another region or a foreign country. Sometimes they become invasive, meaning they multiply very rapidly and shade out or out-compete native species—the way cancer cells overgrow in the human body.

This over-growth happens because non-native species did not live for thousands of years in the ecosystem to which they’ve been introduced, and therefore have no natural checks and balances on their growth. Common non-native plants that become invasive in our area are English ivy, wisteria, kudzu and privet.  They grow so densely that they shade out other plant species, diminishing the presence of beneficial natives plants, insects and other animals in the ecosystem.

Even non-native plants that do not become rampantly invasive still take up valuable real estate that cannot be used by native plants and insects. In most urban and suburban areas yards and even parks, typically over 70% of the plants are non-native species. Since human-impacted areas now make up most of the landscape in our region, you can see the importance of restoring native plants in our yards and greenspaces.

Why are Native Plants so Important?

Native plants are the foundation of food chains, from the tiniest fungi and beetles to eagles, bears and bobcats. A critical way that plants make their way into the food chain to support larger animals is through thousands of species of insects. And though we many not notice these small creatures in our daily lives, it turns out that insects serve critical roles in the food chain for larger wildlife, for birds and many other species, and insects serve as critical pollinators for most plants and wildflowers. Often, a particular type of flower can only be pollinated by a particular species of insect.

And, most native insects are often unable to eat non-native plants, so when many of the plants in our landscapes are non-native, then a great number of beneficial insects are diminished which in turn hurts food supplies for birds, and eliminates pollinators for flowers and trees. With less food in the ecosystem, and fewer seeds dispersed, healthy populations of native plants and animals become threatened and endangered.

In his book Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy shows that most insects are specialists, often eating only one species of plant, and he explains how critical native plants are to overall ecosystem health. By simply removing invasive plants and planting native species, we can all work to restore ecosystem health and bio-diversity.

How You Can Help!

Learn about the plants in your yard and neighborhood and eco-region, then carefully remove invasive species and plant native species. There are a tremendous number of beautiful flowering plants available –some are even edible. Check out our Growing Native Plants page to see a list of nurseries and there are many more special sales throughout the year including Trees Atlanta, Georgia Native Plant Society, and Fernbank Science Center among others.

Walk with us and we’ll teach you many of the native and non-native species found in your neighborhood, and we can even come to your yard or neighborhood greenspace and help you begin an Eco-restoration of your little corner of the planet!