Natives:The REAL Right Plants

Okay! Now let’s talk about the real Right Plants!

Kudos to IFAS for the new Florida Friendly publication with all its great information for waterwise gardening and smart landscape design principles. In my opinion, however, you have ripped the heart out of the very concept when you fail to mention the advantages of native plants each and every time you repeat the mantra, “Right Plant, Right Place.”

In fact the whole world is waking up to the fact that native plants are critical elements in the great jenga tower of existence, not quaint items we would like to catalog in a museum. If you need the statistics and the whole argument, please read Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home. You can read a summary and a review right here on the bottom of our homepage. You can read a simple explanation on Wildlife Garden’s blog page from last week.

Plants that come from Mexico, South America, or China, may be able to survive in Florida; they may even need relatively small amounts of water. But they are NOT, I repeat, NOT, Florida friendly. Excuse me for shouting. A Florida friendly plant is a plant that is supporting our native wildlife, or is a critical part of a naturally-occurring ecosystem here.

So here is one pithy paragraph from Bringing Nature Home:

We have taken and modified for our own use between 95 and 97 percent of all land in the lower 48 states. far as our wildlife is concerned, we have shrunk the continental United States to 1/20th of its original size. And because our refuges and woodlots are not contiguous habitats, but survive as scattered islands from coast to coast, the effective size of undisturbed land in the U.S.  is far smaller that those statistics indicate. When extinction adjusts the number of species to the land area that remains for the plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, and invertebrates of North America (something that will happen within the lifetimes of most of us), we will have  lost 95 percent of the species that greeted the Pilgrims.  Unless we modify the places we live, work, and play to meet not only our own needs but the needs of other species as well, nearly all species of wildlife native to the United States will disappear forever. This is not  speculation. It is a prediction backed by decades of research on species-area  relationships by ecologists who know of what they speak.

Okay. So that was more than one paragraph. But I wanted to give you just a taste of the real facts. Tallamy will also explain to you, if you still need to know, why we need diversity of life if we wish to keep on living on this planet. And for those of you who think we can just invent everything if we really need to, Dr. Bruce Means (FSU) is on record as explaining this: (my paraphrase here) all those guys in white coats who are coming up with new substances are not inventing new things, they are relying largely on copying chemicals they have discovered in plants.

Native plants ARE more sustainable; they grew up here (wherever you are that ‘here’ is). They are adapted to the weather, the soil, the insects. Of course they will need fewer of your resources to survive, thrive, and do their part in sustaining wildlife. I don’t care what kind of soil your developer brought in, you can still plant natives that will be a better investment in every sense of the word. Many native landscapers and nurseries have developed lists of natives for altered soils. In this post a nursery owner describes the process.  And you can improve your soil by good management practices.

 I am not one who would ever say, “no exotics, no way.” My yard has fruit trees, shrimp plants, blue plumbago and some other non-invasive exotics. But what you do in your yard, your city, your park, your HOA, your balcony does make a difference. Because there IS so much land available in those places, our collective attention to native plants has the potential to do serious good. If you absolutely must have a chenille bush, by all means, have it.

But please remember that what we need is the REAL Right Plant in Your Place.

sue dingwell


Anonymous said…
You've piqued my interest. I'm going to read Tallamy's book!
Ginny Stibolt said…
Here's a response from Mike Thomas:

"Most of the IFAS folks I know support natives, but I suspect there is not the money to research natives as much as for more commercial non-natives, so naturally they gravitate that way. Maybe FNPS could suggest additions to IFAS to add to the list. Preferably with 300 dpi photos and characterization."

The old story--Follow the Money! We, as Florida's gardeners and landscapers, could create a huge demand for natives so money can be made.

Thanks again Mike for chatting with us and getting the conversation started.
You will be glad to have read Tallamy's book. Not only full of fascinating facts, but also of hope for efforts of individuals. He has lectured widely since the book came out, to professional and amateur organizations both here and in Canada.
Loret said…
I couldn't agree more, Sue and thanks for linking to the blog Hopefully the more we get the word out, the more people will begin to understand.

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