Native wildlife habitats start with native plants
There’s a lot of buzz about local food, but what about local plants? Native plants are those that are indigenous to a region and possess traits that make them uniquely adapted to local conditions. They have evolved over time, adapting to factors specific to their region such as climate, moisture, soils and interactions with plants, animals and insects, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension.
“Native plants are so important to the ecosystem,” said Nancy Vehrs, president of the Virginia Native Plant Society. “If you want the beautiful birds and butterflies, you have to have the native plants to support the insects that support the higher levels (of the food chain). Most of our native insects are specialists and feed on only certain plants.”
Native plants also tend to be hardier and better able to resist drought, insects and disease if used in locations that approximate their native environments. Additionally, they are well-suited to low-maintenance gardening and landscaping.
Non-natives are species that have been introduced to an area and did not evolve and naturally adapt to the specific ecological conditions of a region. Some non-native or alien species have difficulty thriving without extra maintenance such as irrigation, fertilization and pest control. Other non-native species can get out of control and create an unhealthy monoculture with little space remaining for native species. Non-native species that grow in that manner are called invasive species.
“Virginia bluebells belong in Virginia, and California poppies belong in California,” Vehrs said. “They are iconic species of certain regions and help us to celebrate our diverse species across the globe.”
Native plants include all types of plants, from grasses and ferns to wildflowers, shrubs and trees. The VNPS maintains a list of nurseries that carry native plants on its website at vnps.org/conservation/plant-