No matter where you live, native plants are important to keeping the balance in biodiversity in your environment. Invasive plants harm native plants by forcing them out of their own habitats, resulting in many harmful effects to the surrounding environments. Read on to find out the effects that invasive plants have on the environment, why biodiversity is so important, and why native plants are essential for the well-being of the environment.
In the last 100 years, unoccupied land in the United States has greatly decreased. This is due to the fact that, as of 2019, over 40 million acres of land in the United States are taken up by people's yards and lawns. This urbanization has greatly affected the wildlife populations in the U.S., as their homes have become smaller, and the land that is left is broken up so much that there is not enough room for them to spread out and grow to their full potential. The native wildlife populations are effected even more by the planting and spreading of invasive plants. Invasive plants do not just effect the native plants, but the effect everything that is dependent upon native plants as well.
Native v. Invasive: What Do They Mean?
There are many differences between native and invasive plants, but the simple definitions of both are good places to begin to understand them. A native plant is one that is part of the balance of nature in a particular region or ecosystem and preserves the biodiversity of an area. An invasive plant, however, is one that is alien to the ecosystem, and that can cause environmental harm to it.
What Is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the variety of life in an ecosystem or region. This variety of life is important because, in the wild, each life form depends upon another life form, which depends upon another. This is typically referred to as a "balanced ecosystem." If one life form is lost, the ones dependent upon it are grossly affected by its loss, causing the balanced ecosystem to become unbalanced. For example, trees and squirrels are dependent upon each other for their food and reproduction. Trees provide nuts for the squirrels to eat, and in turn the squirrels bury the tree's nuts, helping the trees reproduce. If either one of the trees or squirrels were taken out of this equation, the other one would suffer.
Why Are Invasive Plants Harmful?
Invasive plants are harmful to the environment and the biodiversity of the surrounding region for many reasons. Alien plants have tendencies to spread quickly and grow deep roots, which prevents the growth of other plants, and creates what are called "monocultures." These monocultures change the plant diversity in a region, as they prevent other plants from growing in that area. The biodiversity of that area is then majorly weakened, as the insects, birds, and animals that were dependent upon the other plants are now without habitats and food sources. This is a major cause of the endangerment of many plants, which in turn leads to the endangerment of wildlife and pollinators that are dependent upon that plant. Invasive plants are not only harmful to the ecosystems, but dangerous, as they can cause a complete regional wipeout of native wildlife. The deep and widespread roots that these plants have also reduce tree cover, as they prevent trees from establishing their roots. This causes the growing trees to become weak, leading to many of them falling. The roots of invasive plants can also lessen water quality, as the structure of their roots does not hold soil together. This means that more soil and sediment can be easily eroded, and end up in nearby streams and rivers. Rather than inviting in native wildlife or pollinators, invasive plants invite in invasive pollinators and wildlife. This escalates the change in biodiversity, as all of the native organisms are pushed out. But this generates the question: why is is so important to have native plants anyway? Why not let the invasive species take over and create a new biodiversity?
Why Are Native Plants So Important?
Native plants are those that are originally from a certain environment, and thus are the plants that will thrive in that environment. Native plants grow deep roots but, unlike invasive plants, their roots go straight down into the soil. This means that their roots do not get in the way of other plants' roots, and so native plants allow other native plants to grow around them. Their deep roots also allow the plants to live longer than invasive plants, and prevent soil erosion. The large root systems of native plants also allow for more carbon dioxide to be absorbed, resulting in cleaner air for us! The most important part about native plants is that they promote the biodiversity of an environment, which results in a balanced ecosystem. Bugs eat the plants, birds eat the bugs, and other wildlife chase the birds or the nuts from the trees. This is only accomplished because the plant is native to the environment, as native wildlife will stay away from exotic plants, and instead veer towards what is familiar to them. By attracting bugs and birds, the native plants are attracting their pollinators, which is how native plants spread. When the native plants are pollinated and new plants begin to grow, this means that there are just more plants for the native wildlife to use for food and shelter. As the native plants attract more bugs and wildlife, they are also receiving natural fertilizer! This means they need less attention when it comes to keeping them healthy, and also require less pesticides, water, and less money for you to spend on them! However, despite all of the great things about native plants, the best thing about them is that they preserve the natural beauty of each region. Kansas wildflowers, California poppies, and the Texas bluebonnets encompass the beauty of each respective state, while being major contributors to the biodiversity of each region.
We hope this blog inspired you to rethink your spring garden, and to bring more native plants into your life! If you're looking for more resources to learn about native plants, check your local botanical garden's website! For example, our local botanical garden is the Missouri Botanical Garden. Their website has mounds of information on native plants, and is a fantastic resource for those in Missouri. Visit your botanical garden's website for information on what plants are native to your area, how to care for plants that are native to your area, and how you can help to support the planting of native plants in your community. And remember to tag us in your photos on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #PLGKC!