An Alternate to the Urban Norm - How Native Plants Can Save the Planet
We’ve all heard the frequent argument regarding urbanization: to many of us, the 12 letter word creates a disturbing visual of trees being chopped down and plopping a shopping mall in their place. Urbanization’s negative reach really isn’t as simple as that. Huge swaths of immaculately trimmed and chemically treated, yet relentlessly boring lawn is a result of urbanization. The same old big box store trees and shrubs imported from Europe and Asia or mutant cultivars that line our streets and our neighborhoods are also a result of urbanization. Both are only superficially beautiful, but when you scratch the surface, they are contributing of to the destruction of our planet.
Rapid urbanization has resulted in the near eradication of native plants, and instead, we have replaced them with the same green, monotonous lawns that cover over 40 million acres of the United States. Native plants, on the other hand, are those that grow naturally in the region they evolved. They are the literal backbone of an ecosystem, with an entire food web depending on them, including us humans at the top of the web! When you remove native plants, you not only remove the beauty of the plant itself, you also starve thousands of other creatures and, in the long run, starve the ecosystem, a slow agonizing death, a death by a thousand cuts.
How do you ask?
Native plants hit on all environmental fronts and they are one of the most inexpensive things you can do today to make a positive change in your own backyard. To start off, native plant and trees help wildlife and serve as habitat. Consider the following scenario: in an ordinary native oak tree, there are homes for over 5000 caterpillars. Chickadees – a beautiful species of bird in North America – need to find about 250 to 570 caterpillars a day to raise their young. If you replace the native oak tree with a basic landscaping tree from Asia, it’ll only be able to host about 5 caterpillars instead of 5000 according to research by the entomologist Doug Tallamy. Thus, by planting just one of these native oak trees means you’re potentially supporting the lives of thousands of caterpillars and generations of Chickadees too.
All of that life and beauty extinguished for the sake of a boring, common landscaping tree.
If that wasn’t enough, native trees also mitigate climate change. Using native plants for landscaping not only means you’re providing a home for thousands of creatures; you’re also playing an active role in saving the environment and saving your wallet in the process. Aged oaks and maples are big enough to be able to store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in their lives, effectively reducing global warm. Native grasses with their deep roots are storing untold amounts of carbon just below our feet! Moreover, you no longer need those noisy lawn mowers to trim an outdated lawn, hence eliminating toxic fumes and pollution. No more need to bust your budget by spending on those stupid lawn mowing machines either.
Planting even a single native tree or plant can make a huge difference – and they’re not even high maintenance! Native plants require very little nourishing since everything they need is already present in their soil and the air around them. All you need to do is plant them and give them a little water up front and your set. Unlike invasive foreign species, they’re not very susceptible to pests and will save you a ton of money on unnecessary, poisonous pesticides or time and fuel mowing (told you native seeds will help your wallet). They will not need continuous watering and won’t need fertilizer (more money in the bank) since the soil should have the necessary nutrients and moisture already.
Landscaping is great as a hobby and profession, but it shouldn’t mean that you have to harm the environment in order to make it look pretty. Native plants and native seeds can grow into gorgeous, colorful gardens and be implemented for homes, schools, and corporate campuses. The beauty of a native landscape lies in its bright colorful flowers, and the changing hues of leaves from spring to summer, autumn, and winter, but mostly the beauty lies in the ecosystem creation. You will always have a huge selection of plants to choose from since there are always numerous plants native to a specific region.
Nowadays, the pesticide problem is getting increasingly out of hand killing untold wildlife and leading to unknown effects to humans. Pesticides wash off from the gardening soil and leak into oceans, killing or poisoning the fish we eat and the water we swim in. Not only that, the pesticide used to coddle foreign plants in a landscape can easily wash off and mix with our drinking supplies too – just imagine the amount of havoc that can be wrecked by using such chemicals. Native plants provide a far healthier option for both humans and animals alike. There really is no getting around that fact.
We’re not done yet – next comes the benefits of water absorption from their tightly woven and immensely deep root systems. This is an essential trait in flood-ridden areas since they can absorb excess moisture and retain it in their roots. On the other hand, in times when water is scarce, they will thrive because they require very little to live when planted in the correct location.
Higher temperature urban areas, otherwise known as “heat islands”, are caused by all the concrete and steel. When planted, native vegetation can lower the surrounding temperature considerably. Not to mention the merciful shade aged native trees can provide to people. Where else would you have a picnic if all of them were removed? That cooling shade can also be beneficial to homes as well, reducing the energy demands of air conditioning.
Thriving biodiversity is what makes everything in our habitat flourish; we’re not exempt from that. Every single organism is linked to another in a much-entangled food web including ourselves. So, every time you choose a non-native over a native, you have no idea about the incredible depth of the mistake you’re making. On the other hand, when you choose a native over a non-native the benefits are nearly limitless. An amazing landscaper will know exactly how to incorporate the right native trees into their design, leading by example, and campaigning for the environment.
The responsibility of taking care of existing native plants, expanding our native urban gardens, and planting a tiny native seed in our friends, families and neighbors thoughts rests on every person’s shoulders. Because, let’s face it – who does this simple act really benefit in the end?