Why Native Plants?
When a plant isn't just a plant.
Plant communities are the foundation of our ecosystems. As these plant communities are lost, this foundation begins to fall apart. Too often the conservation focus is on charismatic animals, but without native plant communities conservation for those species cannot even begin to exist. The loss of native plants is the loss of biodiversity; luckily, bringing back those plant communities helps bring back biodiversity.
Mitigating Habitat Loss:
The destruction of habitat is the leading cause of global biodiversity loss. But why is it such a huge issue? Obviously the loss of space is a problem, but not every development is paved over with concrete. What about the golf courses, suburban neighborhoods, agricultural fields, and corporate complexes? These places have greenspace and plants: can’t animals live in those places? Unfortunately, it’s not always about the space available, but the plant communities within those spaces. When native plant communities are removed and replaced with monoculture turfgrass and non-native ornamentals – all of which is covered with toxic chemicals to prevent any unwanted visitors – we are not creating habitat, we are creating an ecological wasteland with a “natural” aesthetic. For conservation to be successful, native plants – the plant communities that form the foundation of our ecosystems - must be included on human landscapes.
Maintaining Evolutionary Connections:
If plants are the foundation of our ecosystems, then insects are the floor that sits directly upon it. What does that have to do with native plants? Isn’t a plant just a plant? Native plants and insects have evolved complicated relationships over millions of years, which non-native species do not have. For many plants, there is only one species of insect that can pollinate it. Similarly, many insects require specific plants to complete their lifecycles. As we continue to lose native biodiversity, we are losing these evolutionary connections. By planting as many native plants as possible, and as many species as possible, we are giving the foundation and floor of our ecosystems a chance to survive.
One of the biggest keys to conservation is saving as much biodiversity as possible. This sounds obvious, but what does it really mean? To protect biodiversity means to protect evolutionary connectivity – the relationships between different organisms. As species are lost, these relationships break down, and the result is that the loss of one species can cause the decline or loss of another. The more of these relationships we protect, the more healthy and resilient our ecosystems will be. By bringing back native plant communities and creating more biodiverse landscapes we are protecting evolutionary relationships.
Protecting Our Most Endangered Ecosystems:
The Piedmont of Georgia was once largely open forest, with extensive prairies and grasslands dotted with scattered trees. Maintained by fire, these ecosystems were incredibly biodiverse. Unfortunately, the arrival of the colonists brought land conversion, logging, and the suppression of fire, which led to the loss of over 90% of southeastern prairies. Since then, we have been able to bring back some of our native ecosystems in the form of the mixed hardwood forests we see today. Although it is good to have these habitats, the grasslands that were lost remain missing except for very specific areas. We can do more. We have to do more. Across America, millions of acres of greenspace – more acreage than all of our National Parks combined - have been converted into monoculture lawns. What better opportunity for conservation than to convert this greenspace into small pockets of our most endangered ecosystem?