Friday, February 27, 2015

What makes a plant a native?

I have been spending an awful lot of time indoors the last few weeks insulated from all this winter weather.  Work in the office involves quite a bit of data entry, navigating Excel worksheets, and preparing lab samples providing me with plenty of time to think about all the why’s, the what’s, and the how’s of our research. 

Today my mind is stuck on a what … Just what is a native plant anyway?

 A native Asceplias spp. better known as Butterfly Weed

I did a quick internet search and found the following definitions:

USDA Forest Service:
Native plants are the indigenous terrestrial and aquatic species that have evolved and occur naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, and habitat. Species native to North America are generally recognized as those occurring on the continent prior to European settlement. They represent a number of different life forms, including conifer trees, hardwood trees and shrubs, grasses, forbs, and others.

Federal Executive Order 11987:  
‘Native species’ means all species of plants and animals naturally occurring, either presently or historically, in any ecosystem of the United States.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: 
Native. With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.

The United States National Arboretum:
A native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. We consider the flora present at the time Europeans arrived in North America as the species native to the eastern United States. Native plants include all kinds of plants from mosses and ferns to wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. 

Did you pick a favorite?  What I see as common to all of these definitions is the designation, by humans,  of place and time.  A plant in its proper place has all that it needs to grow vigorously while fulfilling its role as food to some and shelter to others.  It is resilient to competition and predation, enjoys a reproductive advantage, efficiently uses water and nutrients, while functioning in a community that includes other plants, animals, fungi, soil, etc.  

Well, that is not so different than any one of us, native earthlings, now is it?

 A native Cirsium spp. in the sandhills of Georgia

 Allium tricoccum, better known as ramps, are a popular spring ephemeral in the mountains of N.C.

Lespedeza capitata in flower at one of our experimental gardens