Have you ever read a newspaper article or website that makes a statement like this:
"Planting natives will save water."?
This is an example of a native plant myth. Most myths, including this one, come from broad generalizations that are only sometimes true. Likewise, the converse, "planting non-natives will waste water" is a broad generalization that is not always true either.
This article covers this myth, and future blog posts will address some others. Stay tuned...
Florida's varied ecosystemsFlorida has a broad range of native ecosystems that support characteristic plant communities. We have rosemary and sand pine scrubs and sandhills (very dry), we have flatwoods (moderately wet to moderately dry), we have hammocks (some wet, some dry), we have wetlands such as swamps (very wet), and a long list of other ecosystems. A good summary of these and others is found on the FNPS website resource article: Native Plant Communities.
|Semi-wild St.Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)|
On the other hand, coming from some part of the world other than Florida does not necessarily mean that a plant will be a water waster in the landscape. Plants that naturally come from dry places, such as ornamental cacti and succulents, originate from dry regions of the world or from very well drained sites in areas of moderate rainfall. These drought-adapted plants can be just as effective as our drought-adapted natives, if your only goal is to save water.
So why the myth? Usually myths come about for some reason.I have a theory, though I can't prove it. When I walk through many retail plant stores, I see plants that are inexpensive. This means that they have to grow fast and be easy for the nursery to supply in bulk. I see plants that can be teased into blooming profusely to encourage us to take them home. I see plants that need a lot of water (and nutrients) to get them to do this. If the nursery is selling them from some combination of fast to grow and responsive to water and nutrients, it's not surprising that they will still need lots of water and nutrients when we put them in our landscapes. Luckily, in more recent years, there are "Florida friendly" with signs indicating that they will require less water. My theory is that this myth originated from the characteristics of plants that have been the easiest and cheapest to buy.
|Island of native plants in a dry home landscape that relies on rainfall |
(even the grass is not watered).
The message to minimize lawn is also usually consistent with this. St. Augustine grass is a moist site plant and (at least in newer developments) is our most common lawn grass. Some other grasses are much less wasteful. If you replace the water-guzzling grass with beds of plants adapted to the local soil and ambient rainfall, much less water will be wasted. I again prefer natives, but I prefer them for the reasons I've already indicated--I like butterflies in my yard! I like birds!
It is worth noting, plants grow naturally where they grow for more reasons than water. Some plants may grow in wet places because these are less likely to burn in a wildfire. Others may grow there because their seeds are dispersed by water, or maybe they need a certain microbe found only in damp soil. Our yards are not native ecosystems, but with due diligence in selecting appropriate native plants, we can develop a good imitation of one with the all rewards of all those birds and butterflies. As a bonus, you'll also be helping to preserve Florida's water supply.