Without native plants, our wildlife is at risk of extinction. A non-native plant is one that grows outside its natural range and can be detrimental to the environment. Native plants, on the other hand, are those that occur naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. These plants have evolved and adapted to the environmental conditions of an area, such as the local climate, geography and soil.
The significant difference between native and non-native plants is that native plants support native insects. Insects that have evolved with native plants can combat the chemical defenses of some plants and know how to avoid those that they cannot. But when non-native species are introduced, insects are often unable to use them for food. The native nuts, seeds and fruits that these plants produce provide essential food for all forms of wildlife.
For example, research by entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown that native oak trees are home to more than 500 species of caterpillars, while ginkgos, a landscape tree commonly planted in Asia, are home to only 5 species of caterpillars. This illustrates the importance of native plants in helping birds and other wildlife. By choosing native plants for your garden, you're not only helping wildlife, but you're also creating a healthier place for you, your family, and your community. Native plants require less maintenance than non-native species since they are adapted to the local environment.
Plant breeders will produce “refined” selections of a plant species through the exclusive reproduction of plants of that species with a specific characteristic. Unfortunately, most of the gardening plants available in nurseries are exotic species from other countries. There is also a common misconception that if a plant is considered invasive in one region (such as the state of Pennsylvania), it must be invasive everywhere (such as South Carolina, Texas, Florida, etc.). By understanding the benefits of native plants and why they should be chosen over non-natives, we can help protect our wildlife and create healthier environments for ourselves and our communities.