You may believe that English ivy adds an air of sophistication to your garden wall. Sure, it feels inspired to have your weekly Sunday mimosa under a mimosa tree. And we’ve all been to a school campus or office park lined with Bradford pears. But did you know that these plants severely threaten native vegetation?
Exotic or invasive plant species are those that were not naturally present in Western North Carolina before European settlement. In many cases, non-native herbs, flowers, and garden shrubs enhance your home’s landscaping or provide a few fun edibles for your dinner table. But in the case of many others, like the ones mentioned above, non-native species have invasive characteristics that cause them to spread rapidly into the local ecosystem, displacing natural vegetation.
Native plants of WNC offer many natural benefits, both to the local environment and to you as a property owner. Here are a few reasons to consider swapping your Japanese maple for a sugar maple:
1. Native plants inspire a “sense of place” and connect us to our land’s heritage.
Native plants are the vegetation that defines a location. Can you imagine Aspen, Colorado without aspen trees? Can you picture the American Southwest without prickly pear cacti? Now, can you imagine WNC without our lush, deciduous forests? Our native flora have evolved in our region over geologic timescales. And over generations, they influenced the livestyles, diet, and medicinal practices of the area’s native peoples. These practices have become part of the heritage of our region.
Are you interested in tapping into the healing properties of WNC’s landscape? Here are examples of medicinal plants to incorporate into your landscaping:
- Common witchhazel
- Shrubby St. John’s wort
- Wild ginger
- Wild rose
2. Native plants restore regional landscapes.
In addition to offering healing properties through their use, native plants contribute to the overall health of our local ecosystems. Since they evolved to live in this climate, native plant species place fewer demands on resources, particularly in urban settings. In short, native plants give back as much as they take. They even help restore ecological balance after natural disasters.
Are you interested in landscaping with plants that boost each other’s health and success to make the best use of your small space? Here are examples of good plants for urban homes:
- Mountain laurel
- Azaleas: sweet, flame, white, pinkshell, etc.
- Carolina rhododendron
- Red or black chokeberry
3. Native plants provide food and shelter for native wildlife.
From butterflies to birds to bears, native flowers and plants provide nesting shelter and food year round. Butterflies, bees, bats, and other pollinators rely on native flowering plants to successfully complete their life cycle. Other animals, like deer and elk, depend on the cover provided by local flora to stay safe from predators. The lives of local fauna are entwined with the land—and with the plants that grow natively in our forests.
Are you interested in helping native wildlife in addition to planting attractive landscaping? Here are examples of plants beneficial to wildlife:
- Beech, oak, and hickory trees (for shelter and nuts)
- American holly, white pine, and hemlock trees (evergreens offering winter shelter and food)
- Flowering dogwood, spicebush, and Virginia creeper (food for fall migrating birds)
4. Native plants survive regional weather extremes when sited and planted properly.
Have you been having trouble keeping your garden perky in the summer heat? Is it difficult to keep track of which kind of mulch is best for each of your shrubs? Are you tired of replanting every spring because the pansies at the mailbox died in a frost? Native plants are best suited to local terrain and pH levels, which can make them far less fussy in warm summer months or much more hardy through winter’s long cold periods.
Are you interested in finding plants that suit your land, instead of the other way around? Here are examples of hardy plants that would be perfect for your yard:
- Mountain laurel, pine trees, oaks, huckleberry, blueberries, and hickories (dry, south-facing slopes with acidic soils)
- Hemlock, tulip poplar, and maple (moist, north-facing slopes)
- Rosebay rhododendron (lower slopes and creek drainages)
Ready to begin landscaping with native plants?
We hope by now you’re interested in transitioning your garden from exotic to native plant species. The change will not only boost your home’s curb appeal. It will also boost the health and well being of the ecosystem around your home.