Native plants are those that occur in a particular region or habitat without human intervention. Generally, plants that were present in the United States before Europeans arrived are considered native.
Non-native and exotic species of plants, which have been introduced directly or indirectly by humans, often require extensive care in the form of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and other maintenance. Invasive plants are typically non-native species that grow and spread aggressively to the point of displacing other plants. They are hard to control and may even dominate whole areas, disrupting ecosystems and diminishing biodiversity. Native plants, on the other hand, are an integral part of local ecosystems and flourish in their specific conditions without soil modifications, chemicals, or excessive water. Finally, adapted plants are non-native, but are able to thrive under a certain region’s temperature, soil, and rainfall conditions without becoming invasive.
Native and non-native plants alike (and, yes, even invasives) offer benefits such as shading, air filtration, and aesthetics, but native and adapted plants are most likely to do well while simultaneously enhancing ecosystem stability, providing habitat, and requiring minimal attention.
Over 2,100 plant species are native to Pennsylvania (where Green Building Alliance is located). Many native grasses, ferns, shrubs, trees, and wildflowers are listed in this Native Plant Database (filter results for Pennsylvania or your location). For some excellent examples of how native plants can be beautifully incorporated into a variety of landscapes, check out Andropogon or Viridian Landscape Studio.
Cost and Care
Native plants are no more expensive than any other plants. Surprisingly, some native plants and invasive plants look very similar, so it may be possible to replace a particularly attractive invasive species with a native alternative.
In addition to requiring less maintenance than other species, many native plants attract birds, hummingbirds, and beneficial insects. They can play a part in xeriscaping, a method of landscaping designed to eliminate the need for irrigation, as well as rainwater management.
In addition to installing native plants, keep watch for invasive species. Since they are so hard to remove once established, the best strategy is prevention.
Advantages of Native Plants
- Avoid problems related to invasive species
- Protect natural biodiversity
- Reduced chemical and water use
Related Credits and Incentives in Green Building Rating Systems
- LEED BD+C v4
- Sustainable Sites Credit: Site development – protect or restore habitat
- Water Efficiency Credit: Outdoor water use reduction