Back to Natives..

In Florida, landscaping is a huge buisness.  Half of the appeal of residing in this place is the tropical greenery setting the backdrop to your life.  Its wonderful, I’ll admit.

Native passionflower, beautiful and great caterpillar habitat

Unfortunately, most of these carefully crafted landscapes don’t use plants native to Florida.  That presents us with a mess of trouble when our houseplants get loose.  There are  several disastrous examples; from Kudzu brought into the U.S. in the late 1800’s to purple loostrife set loose from water gardens to Australian pine and Brazilian pepper.  All four displace native plants. 

Australian pine (which isnt really a pine) and Brazilian pepper are particularly bad when it comes to aquatic habitats.  Both release allelopathic (read: toxic) chemicals into the ground to declare war on nearby plants.  Eventually, all you have is a stand of these trees and bare ground.  What’s the aquatic connection?  Since they both can handle swampy soils they aren’t hard to find along the margins of waterways and even the Lagoon.  The native mangroves can’t always keep up. 

Plus, non-native tropical greenery tends to need more water than native plants.  Why?  Florida is a mix of strange habitats, many of which are exposed to episodes of drought during the North American winter.  Florida doesn’t get cold in winter, it gets dry.  Native plants have adapted to deal with a shortage of water.  Many are also adapted to deal with harsh environmental conditions, including fire. 

Native blanketflower (aka firewheel)

Since we’re a peninsula surrounded by seawater and mostly built upon limestone, its important to conserve water in this area.  Non-native plants need more than native.  The simple solution: plant natives.

Its starting to catch on thanks to the work of amazing people with organizations like the Florida Native Plant Society.  And yes, native plants can be just as beautiful as potentially-harmful exotic tropicals. 

Firebush

More firebush…

And just to completely win you over in the fight for native plants, wildlife in your area (and yes, even in your suburban backyard) could benefit more from native plants.  Mainly because they evolved to depend upon them for food, for shelter, for space, and so on.  Some of the more dangerous pest species in the U.S. displace important host species for wildlife.  This is especially true in the case of butterflies looking for host species for their eggs and hungry armies of caterpillars. 

Dune sunflower

So wherever you live, think about your gardens and your landscape, and ponder going native.  It might help your water bill, cut down risks of introducing pest species to an area, and provide valuable habitat to native wildlife in your area. 

Great resources on natives:

WildOnes / native plants and communities

NativePlantNetwork / scientific journal and notes

eNature / native gardening with a great tool for different areas of the US

PlantNative / another advocate and resource for natives

And finally, an interesting write-up from BBC on an invasive caterpillar, its foraging on oak and birch trees, the historic Sherwood Forest in the UK, and the use of hairspray to keep the bristling little beasts in line.  

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