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Why Native Plants?

Thursday May 13, 2010

by Rob Maday, Contributor

When people make authentic connections with nature, hope is the result.  Whether it is in the mighty Sierras, the vast emptiness of the Mojave Desert, or within the confines of our fenced-in suburban backyards, an integral and innate circuit is restored in our basic wiring when we listen to the stories told by the landscape.   

The landscape speaks in many forms; it uses the pungent aromas of coastal sage brush, sounds of lizards scurrying over the thick leaf litter underneath a California Ironwood, the cacophony of color blanketing the foothills in spring, and the protectively sharp margins of agaves to deliver its message of resilience, beauty, simplicity and joy.  Those listening to the story are rewarded with a renewed appreciation and understanding of our place in this grand eco-system.

But many Californians are physically and spiritually removed from the landscape and have forgotten how to appreciate all that can be learned by simply listening.  As such, "landscape" has become something to be managed, maintained, or subdued rather than observed, cultivated and honored.  Most suburban landscapes are evolving to resemble our industrial farms with mechanized maintenance, homogenous plantings, and reliance on chemical inputs for survival rather than embracing the diversity, strength and seasonal beauty inherent in nature.

However, this is exactly where the use of native plants in our cultivated landscape is of great service.  Bringing the plants, even one or two at a time, back into their native range (i.e. our frontyards and backyards) will re-acquaint us with nature.  Not only does the use of native plants have a myriad of direct environmental benefits (increased habitat value, appropriate water requirements, attractor of beneficial insects,etc.), it forces you to acknowledge nature, which in turn, re-tunes the ear to all the wonderful stories that are being told.

For example, a single Zauschneria canum, California Fuschia, in a private garden will mark the seasons with its siren-strength bloom in fall and attract a variety of beneficial insects and pollinators into a garden.  Or consider the impact of a native landscape in a standard southern California subdivision?  Could you imagine the sheer contrast between a yard of blooming Buckwheats surrounded by homes with anally clipped turf, boxed-shrubs and a smattering of tropical palms?  Over time, neighborhood shock will certainly transition to a pang of desire for a stroll in the hills outside of town. 

Native plants and native gardens are slowly gaining mainstream acceptance these days.  They are very rightly touted as one of many solutions to water shortages.  They are also fantastic at attracting and benefitting local insects and birds.  And, if placed properly, they can also reduce the amount of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides required to "maintain" a garden.  But yet another reason to consider natives is because just one native landscape has enormous potential to ripple into neighboring gardens and displace barren landscapes that tell no story to our community.

Take a moment to see what native plants will speak to you by exploring the Plant Community Interactive Map.