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Ohia Lehua, a native plant of Hawaii

Ohia Lehua, a native plant of Hawaii

First, native plants are often cheaper than other plants. Second, they are well adapted to your local conditions and will therefore need less attention and care. Another very important advantage of indigenous plants is they are a part of your local ecosystem. The problem with imported plants is they can invade the territory of local plants, choke them out and change the local ecosystem. One place on earth where this is a very big problem is Hawaii. For many years, people have been using imported plants in their gardens and these plants spread out across the islands, jeopardizing the very existence of a great number of native Hawaiian plants.

What’s a native?

Breadfruit

Breadfruit

But what is a native plant? Is there a number of years that can qualify a plant as a native? Is it a hundred years, a thousand years? Does the fact that humans brought the seeds with them make a plant non indigenous? In the case of Hawaii, the true natives were brought to the islands thousands and thousands of years ago by birds. Then came the Polynesians settlers, thousands of years ago, who brought new seeds with them. These plants are considered Polynesian colonists and they most certainly took space previously occupied by true natives. Taro and Breadfruit, which were the staple foods of the early Hawaiians, are among those Polynesian colonists.

Then came the modern transplants. The Passion Fruit, for instance, was introduced in Hawaii in the late 19th century. It was praised for the beauty of its flowers and the delicious taste of its fruits, and was also popular with birds, that enjoyed eating their juicy fruits, and that dispersed their seeds all over the island. From the tiny village of Lilikoi Gulch on East Maui, this plant soon spread to wild habitats and can now be seen in many locations.

Invaders are all over

Passion fruit, an admired invader

Passion fruit, an admired invader

But non indigenous plants taking over habitats previously occupied by natives is not a problem restricted to the Hawaiian archipelago. All over the world, local plants are being chocked out by foreign imports. Does this mean that we should never use non indigenous plants in our yards? No. It means that we should try to use natives as much as possible, and that we should stay away from plants known to be invaders.

You may think “Using only native plants is so restrictive!” Is that really so? What about the people living in Hawaii. They have a huge selection of native and semi native plants (Polynesian imports) to choose from, yet they choose to introduce completely foreign plants in their gardens. Ignorance may be the culprit here, not lack of available plants. And once again, this happens all over the planet. People in California buy flowers that come from South Africa, gardeners in Ontario fill flower beds with flowers from Asia, and so on and so forth.

Reasons to choose natives

In fact, if you choose to use only native plants in your landscaping, your yard will stand out. People will wonder about your plants and, as odd as it may seem, neighbors who have plants from a host of different countries in their own yards may very well ask you about your “strange” plants. You will amaze them when you tell them they are plants native to your own region.

Still not convinced? Here is a short list of the advantages that may tip the balance:

  • Indigenous plants need little or no fertilizers.
  • They resist droughts better, so you don’t need to water them as much.
  • They are less prone to disease.
  • They don’t need winter protection and keep coming back every spring.
  • Native bugs and native plants have a long history together. So native plants can attract and retain good bugs and also have good defenses against bad bugs.
  • By growing them, you’re protecting and promoting native plant species in your region.
  • They make you look so clever for knowing about your region and its natural habitat.

The next question is how to find those plants. It would be impossible to list them here, since the readers of this website are located in many different regions. Your biggest allies in finding those plants are the horticulturists and gardeners at your local botanical garden. If you have a good nursery, one that employs competent gardeners, then that’s also a good place to find advice on native plants.

And there are literally hundreds of sites worldwide that list indigenous and endangered plant species.

Have you considered all the possibilities? There are some landscaping ideas you may not have thought of.


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