Native plants provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife, while contributing greatly to healthy soil and water in urban and rural areas. Below is a quick list of seven good things native plants do or provide. For much more detailed information on native plants and where you can obtain them, be sure to check out our Native Plant Resources section!
Native plants help you use less fertilizers. Vast amounts of fertilizers are applied to lawns. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen (the main components of fertilizers) run off into lakes and rivers causing excess algae growth. This depletes oxygen in our waters, harms aquatic life and interferes with recreational uses.
Native plants help you use less pesticides. Nationally, over 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns each year. Pesticides run off lawns and can contaminate rivers and lakes. People and pets in contact with chemically treated lawns can be exposed to pesticides.
Native plants help you use less water. The modern lawn requires significant amounts of water to thrive. In urban areas, lawn irrigation uses as much as 30% of the water consumption on the East Coast and up to 60% on the West Coast. The deep root systems of many native Midwestern plants increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.
Native plants help you keep the air around you cleaner. Natural landscapes do not require mowing or very much maintenance. Lawns, however, must be mowed regularly. About forty million lawnmowers consume 200 million gallons of gasoline per year, while overall, gas-powered garden tools emit 5% of the nation’s air pollution. One gas-powered lawnmower emits 11 times the air pollution of a new car. Excessive carbon from the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming, while native plants sequester (remove) carbon from the air.
Native plants provide shelter and food for wildlife and support pollinators. Native plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing diverse habitats and food sources. Closely mowed lawns, on the other hand, are of little use to most wildlife!
Native plants promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage. In the U.S., approximately 20 million acres of lawn are cultivated, covering more land than any single crop. Unfortunately, there are very few benefits to native wildlife from a manicured lawn. Likewise, gardens that mostly feature non-native species of plants are often of little benefit to wildlife. Natural landscaping is an opportunity to reestablish diverse native plants, thereby inviting the birds and butterflies back home.
Native plants have been shown to save money in many different ways. One study by Applied Ecological Services (Brodhead, WI) of larger properties estimates that over a 20 year period, the cumulative cost of maintaining a prairie or a wetland totals $3,000 per acre versus $20,000 per acre for non-native turf grasses. The economic benefits of native plants can also be measured against the damage that certain non-native plants do. According to another study, the presence of invasive species (including animals), costs Oregon an estimated $125 million a year1!
1Cusack, Harte, Chan, “The Economics of Invasive Species.” Prepared for the Oregon Invasive Species Council. Oregon State University 2009.