Why Choose Natives?? :0

As mentioned on the front page of this website, studies in eco-psychology suggest that having lots of diverse flora on a college campus may have positive affects on the mental well-being of the students who attend there, whether they choose to study among the flora, or just observe it en route to their next class. The University of Mary Washington takes advantage of this by having lots of plants on campus year-round, so why does it matter what those plants are and where they came from?

Sometimes non-native plants are introduced to an area, and they simply die out since they don’t belong there and can’t survive. But the vast majority of the time, those plants are considered invasive, and have negative affects on the environment that they are introduced to. Not convinced? Here’s some reasons to choose natives:

For the Flora!!

Invasive plant species are often evolved to be extra hardy, able to grow under non-ideal circumstances, and competitive. Because of this, they tend to kill the native varieties they are growing around. Whether it be by simply competing for nutrients and water until the natives die from lack of adequate nutrition, or if the invasive plant has evolved to grow tall and spread it’s leaves out as fast as possible, blocking the smaller native plants from getting sunlight. Invasive species are often very good at stealing resources from the plants surrounding them, especially if they are native plants that haven’t specifically evolved to be competitive. Native plants have also spent years evolving to the specific conditions that they grow in. When invasive species come, they bring invasive species of insects with them. Native plants typically aren’t prepared to handle new predators, so when these new invasive insects eat holes in their leaves they don’t often survive.

For the Pollinators!!

Pollinators such as bees and butterflies evolve to rely on certain species of plants. For example, caterpillars may rely on the leaves of a specific flower, bush or tree in order to be nourished before entering their pupil state. But if those specific varieties have been choked out by invasive species, those pollinators are out of luck. Alternatively, if invasive plants brought invasive insects and now the pollinators are fighting for their food, the pollinators likely won’t win since they haven’t evolved to be prepared to do that. And if the pollinators in an area die off, the plants in that area won’t be able to germinate thanks to lack of pollen spread from the surrounding plants. This creates a vicious cycle of pollinator and plant death that can wreak havoc on entire ecosystems.

For the Fauna!!

Similar to the pollinators, lots of animals have evolved to rely on a specific food to survive. For example, some bird’s beaks are meant for eating bugs. But as stated above, if those bugs can’t find the plants they need in that environment, they won’t be there, and then those birds won’t have access to their food. In the inverse, some birds have evolved for specific types of seeds. But if the plants that those seeds come from have been choked out by invasive plants or devoured by invasive insects, those birds won’t have access to their food either.

Birds aren’t the only animal affected, of course. Other small mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks rely on specific seeds to eat, too. Additionally, we have to consider the larger animals that eat the small mammals and birds. The entire food chain in an ecosystem is negatively affected by the dying of plants all the way at the bottom.

For your Wallet….

As we all know, time is money. And money is, well, still money!! Native plants are already adapted to survive here. That means far less time making sure they’re watered, their soil is the right acidity, they’re in the right amount of sunlight, they’re planted in the right season, and so on and so forth. Native plants have already adapted to the local weather, soil conditions, pests, etc., so you won’t need to spend nearly as much time and money fussing over them.

For Aesthetics!!

Lots of Virginia natives are whats called “four season plants” because of their beauty shown throughout all four seasons!! For example, Cornus Florida, also known as Flowering Dogwood, is a Virginia native and even Virginia’s state tree!! In the spring the Flowering Dogwood grows emerald green leaves. As the seasons shift from late spring to early summer, the Flowering Dogwood blooms beautiful and sweet-smelling white flowers. When the weather starts to cool in the autumnal months, the flowers die out but the leaves shift from emerald green to a fiery red. And finally in the winter, berries can still be seen on the now mostly-bare trees. Flowering Dogwoods aren’t the only examples of these “four season plants” that are native to Virginia. Many trees that call Virginia home are a sight to behold year round. In case you’re having trouble remembering how beautiful Virginia natives can be, check out this slideshow: