The case for native plants

By Humza Yaqoob, Columnist

The ideal American lawn is a neat, sterile, manufactured landscape of tidy grass accompanied by some select aesthetically pleasing plants. In fulfilling this aspiration, we have created an environment which is actually hostile to much of the life we share the land with and damaged our ecosystem.

A desire to keep lawns ‘pest-free’ has led to the introduction of invasive plant species which aren’t pollinated by much of the local insect life. The relationships between plants and their pollinators can be highly specific, with certain plants being attractive to only certain insects. Driving away insects has a domino effect on the ecosystem, since many animals such as birds depend on insects as a food source. What starts with a change in just the vegetation can deplete the species’ richness of the entire system.

The solution to this problem is to re-introduce native plants to our landscape where they have been driven away. In order for a plant to be considered native, it must occur naturally in the local habitat, having adapted to its physical conditions and evolved alongside other species in the ecosystem. Bringing native plants back to our gardens can help native animal species to repopulate our environment before the opportunity is lost. You may remember a time when it seemed like there was a greater variety of bees, butterflies, and birds visiting our lawns. If we don’t make changes now, future generations won’t be able to appreciate the richness and diversity of wildlife we have been able to.

Preserving our environment’s natural biodiversity is a worthy objective in its own right, but it is also in our own best interest to restore our ecosystem. We aren’t just passive observers in our environment—we depend on and are shaped by it. In reducing species diversity, we are potentially cutting out crucial links in the system that supports us.

If you are interested in learning more about native plants, the book “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy offers a much more in depth argument in favor of native plants, as well as details about species of native plants and their pollinators. Additionally, the Maryland Native Plant Society offers information specific to Maryland about native plants, where to find them, and how to plant them.

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