When it comes to environmentally responsible landscaping, water conservation isn’t the only priority. With the damage caused by invasive flora and fauna estimated at almost $120 billion per year, it’s also important for homeowners to conscientiously choose the plants they put in their yard. By selecting native plant species, homeowners will not only prevent exotic species from harming the local ecosystem, but they’ll also likely wind up with yards and gardens that are more in tune with the local environment and therefore easier to cultivate.

What Is an Invasive Species?

Many exotic species have been introduced to the US unintentionally, but most have been deliberately cultivated as both attractive and hardy garden plants. Not all of these exotic plant species are considered invasive; in fact, plenty of nonnative species have been cultivated in residential landscapes for decades without overtaking the surrounding ecosystems. The term invasive is reserved for plants that are so hardy and fast growing that they are able to escape cultivation, flourish in the wild, and harm native species. Well-known examples include kudzu, purple loosestrife, and butterfly bush—three plants that grow densely and spread rapidly, outcompeting native plants for sun, soil, water, and pollinators.

The Negative Impact of Invasive Species

In an ecosystem, a plant species is kept from dominating others by competition, disease, and predators. Invasive species exist outside that system of checks and balances; for example, they may be unappetizing to local herbivorous animals or unconstrained by a region’s relatively mild winters. In a hospitable environment, invasive plant species can crowd out native plants and take over a landscape, with repercussions for all of an ecosystem’s life forms. For example, kudzu enshrouds all other plants, preventing them from receiving sunlight. In another instance, the roots of the salt cedar or tamarisk tree, native to African and Asian deserts, can deplete the groundwater. Some invasive species also produce a negative economic impact as they smother timber forests or choke food crops.

The Benefits of Planting Native Species

The bottom line is that your landscaping doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s a fully integrated part of nature involving complex relationships between wild animals and birds, insects, and plants. By planting species native to your region, you’ll help nurture that natural balance. In general, native species are also better adapted to local conditions and will perform better over the years. With a selection of native species, you’ll create a residential landscape or garden that complements the regional foliage as well as your home, bringing your entire property in harmony with the surrounding environment.

With benefits ranging from environmental to aesthetic, it makes sense to populate your yard with native species rather than potentially invasive ones. To learn more about invasive species and find native alternatives, consult your landscaping contractor or the many resources provided by the USDA, the National Invasive Species Council, and college biology departments across the country. Hopefully, you’ll find that bringing your yard in sync with nature is a challenge with many rewards.

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Sources: Brooklyn Botanic Garden; Cornell University Ecology and Management of Invasive Plants Program; Midwest Invasive Plant Network; National Invasive Species Council; USDA National Invasive Species Information Center.

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