Much is being said and written across the US about native plants versus exotics. The use of native plants in landscape design has been trending up for the last few decades and is only increasing as people realize the cumulative ecological impacts of land development.
There are strong ecological arguments for using native plants and against using non-natives, some of which are outlined below.
Halcyon Planning & Design is committed to a strong emphasis on native plants for a variety of reasons. Most of our planting plans will have 80% or more native plants, and often approach 100%. Most of the non-natives are specifically requested by the client. HPD will not include non-natives that are invasive or known to cause other problems.
There are several definitions and descriptions for what makes a plant native. Some are fussier and more scientific than others. Here's what I use:
Native Plants are those that have existed in a region or ecosystem without interference or introduction by humans.
In North America, indigenous peoples did little to redistribute plants, so that definition generally means that the plant was in this area before Columbus landed and European settlement began. Botanists make determinations about this based on herbarium specimens collected and preserved over those 400+ years. Botanists contributing to the Atlas of Virginia Flora often can be precise to the county level.
Here are a few broad benefits. The more you dig into any of these, the more there is to them.
Same idea: here are a few broad problems. The more you dig into any of these, the more there is to them.
Now to be honest, many non-native plants are fairly benign on their own. They grow well, look good, fill artistic niches that most natives might not, and so on. Plus, some landscape situations are not suited to the regular palette of native plants. So a few non-natives here and there can be valuable and can do more good than harm.
But bear in mind that every landscape we create displaces a habitat on which the birds, bees, butterflies, and bunnies rely. The more habitats we displace and replace with non-natives, the greater are the stresses on natural systems to maintain balanced ecosystem services on which we humans rely.
Too much of 21st Century American landscape design shows little or no regard for these ecological impacts. That approach can be good for business (the landscaper’s) but for nothing else (not the client nor the community nor the environment as a whole).