Why Natives?

Given the wide range of plants that are available in most nurseries, most suited to the local climate, why should we go out of our way to incorporate native into our landscaping plans? The reasons may well vary as much as do the native plants and the people who use them. Most of gardens and yards do contain a few natives, though many of them may be considered “weeds”. However, there are several very good, concrete benefits of cultivating natives to work with the natural processes rather than against them. Native plants are those that evolved in the area and have developed mechanisms for coping with local conditions. This usually means that they will require less care than plants that are adapted to conditions elsewhere.

Take your design cue from where you are. If the natural plant community in which you live is an oak woodland, don’t try to create a tropical rain forest; to be successful, your water usage (and bill) will be obscene! Beyond the issues of wasteful resource utilization, at best the result will be out of place. Our rolling foothills are naturally graced with the rounded forms of native oaks, rugged coastlines with wind swept evergreens, flat valleys with low grasses and wildflowers, and stream corridors are rich with willows topped by cottonwood. The shapes and textures of these plants merge with and enhance the land forms, creating eye pleasing scenes. The same idea can be used when planning urban landscapes. In this way, even a small, fenced yard blends smoothly within the larger area.

Beyond the pure aesthetics, by using native plants that might have been present hundreds, or thousands of years ago you can create your own nature preserve. An ecological niche is a small, but complex, environment that is a combination of the plants and animals interacting with each other. Natives, both animals and plants evolved with one another, and while many may be able to adapt to exotics, they have long been able to live with the natives, and some require them. Some endangered animals require natives. By reintroducing Silver Lupine (Lupinus albifrons), you may notice the endangered Checkerspot Butterfly visiting. The primary cause of extinction is habitat loss; with care and planning we can each, individually, help alleviate part of this problem.

The practical advantages of natives are also several. Ease of care was mentioned above. This spans acclimation to seasonal weather conditions, like our summer drought and coastal fog, to soil conditions that are usually alkaline and sometimes high in serpentine. Resistance to local diseases and pests is another normal trait. Western natives have all developed strategies for dealing with fires that once upon a time, regularly swept the entire area. Some species survive through seeds or sheer numbers. Others are fire resistant. For instance, redwoods have developed fire resistant bark. Most of our native grasses maintain some moisture, even in the driest part of the year, so being somewhat fire resistant. Using fire resistant plants in our landscape has obvious benefits.

These are a few of the more apparent reasons why one might prefer to use native plants in an urban landscape plan. Certainly there are others. My hope is that you will use the information in this book and elsewhere to develop an understanding and an appreciation to the plants that were here before you. In so doing, I think you will find much pleasure in inviting them into you home and life.

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