Our natural heritage
The use of native plants in landscaping is a celebration of our natural heritage and an awakening of a land ethic first expressed by Aldo Leopold more than 50 years ago. The natural processes from which natives evolve represent the cog and wheel of a healthy ecosystem sustained by a complex web of biological diversity. Native plants have many inherent qualities and adaptive traits that make them aesthetically pleasing, practical, and ecologically valuable for landscaping. Using native plants contributes to the health and often the restoration of an ecosystem. Landscaping with natives in an urban setting helps restore regional character and places fewer demands on resources.
What are natives?
Natives are plants that evolved in place over geologic time and are distributed across the landscape largely in response to climatic episodes and adaptation to site conditions related to land formation. Natives are generally defined as plants that occurred in North America before European settlement. This distinction is made because of the large-scale changes in the flora that have resulted since European settlement and the introduction of "exotic" plants. Exotics are plants that are directly or indirectly, deliberately or accidentally introduced by human action. To be more precise, natives are natural elements of a regional landscape. While some species are native to North America, they may be exotic to East Tennessee.
Natives vs. exotics
While many exotics are harmless, others pose serious threats to biodiversity. Exotics that escape and naturalize change the floral composition of native plant communities. Exotics that invade native plant communities spread, out-compete, and displace natives. Other exotics are vectors for disease and exotic insects. Future introductions can be prevented by using native species. Using natives also exhibits regional flora and promotes our natural heritage. Natives have often been overlooked and their aesthetic value ignored. Instead, many regions look the same because overuse of the same exotics has created a monotonous, predictable landscape.
Basics about using natives
When landscaping with natives match the right plants with the right site conditions. Consider using plants that occur together in their natural habitats. Do your homework before planting; study the plants and the site con-dition information in this brochure. Visit a natural area and observe how plants occur and design your landscape accordingly. Buy nursery propagated plants. Remember, landscaping with natives is art imitating nature.
Benefits of natives
Natives for wildlife
Using natives in landscaping helps sustain native butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects; native birds, reptiles, mammals, and other fauna. Fall migrating birds depend on high-energy fruits from flowering dogwood and spicebush. Spring migrants feed on insects that occur on oak trees. Beech and other native trees provide nesting habitat, while Eastern red cedar, short leaf pine, and American holly provide winter cover and food.
For more information
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation
Tennessee Invasive Plant Council (TN-IPC)
Tennessee Native Plant Society
The Bugwood Network - The University of Georgia
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and
Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources
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