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Radical Botany Skillshare: Why native plants are important to the survival of the plane

Native plants are not just something pretty to look at. They have a direct link to human, insect and ecosystem survival. They are an essential link in the web of life. We all need to work on removing the turf and black top and bringing native plants back into our biome. Yet since the 1840's over 80 million acres have been taken out of native landscapes. Landscapes have been paved over, planted in non native turf grass and tilled for non native crops. It is time to welcome them home.
Fenders Blue Butterfly and Kincaid Lupine
Fenders Blue Butterfly and Kincaid Lupine
First before I tell you about the importance of native plants I would like to give you a couple of definitions of what is a native plant?

A native plant can be described as plants growing before European settlements started about 200 years ago. Other sources I found also describe them this way: "A native (indigenous) species is one that occurs in a particular region, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions" (Kartesz and Morse 1997; Richards 1998.

Gail Gredler an instructor of landscape horticulture at Chemekta Community college in Salem, Oregon says that trying to say what is native and what is not is getting harder because some plant specialists are cloning and messing with the DNA of native plants to create "nativars". These mad scientists (my judgment) are creating these bio-modified cloned plants so they can patent the plant and make money on each sale of the plant or its seeds. Bio-modification without ecosystem health in mind so we don't know if there will be detrimental effects. People are beginning to sell the look-alike "nativars" as natives and so it is important to find a native plant nursery that is registered or have a source in the wild forest where the plants grow. (See resource list at end of this article). According to Gredler insects may or may not recognize the plant chemicals of these "nativars". Some research on bio-modified corn and other grain crops are showing that insects will not pollinate the crops because the plant chemicals are toxic to the pollinator. The bio-modified grains are causing issues with human and animal health also.

SO HERE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT CONNECTION BETWEEN INSECTS,NATIVE PLANTS AND HUMAN SURVIVAL = Insects need native plants to survive. We need insects alive so that our food and medicine and utility plants can be pollinated and fertilized. Without insects and native plants our biome will experience an ECOLOGICAL COLLASPE.

Ke Chung Kim an entomologist with Penn State University writes in his book "Biodiversity, conservation and inventory: why insects matter", that insects and anthropods have existed for more than 400 million years and after surviving the Permian and Cretaceous mass extinctions, arthropods have been the most successful of all living things and along with other invertebrates constitute more than three-quarters essential for human food production, and maintaining rain forests, savannahs and other important components of global water storage in ecosystems. Without insects we would experience complete eco-system collapse. Native plants are the only food that many insects will consume. Without native plants, many insects such as the Fender Blue butterfly and native bumblebees and other pollinators will become extinct. Bringing native plants back into our environment is essential to the survival of humans, fauna and flora. Once the insects are gone, then will fall the birds, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, deer, and other fauna. The food chain will collapse and we human animals will also fall.

According to sources such as Mace Vaughn of the Xerces Society (see resources at end of this article) and Gredler 90% of insects depend on native plants for food. Local insects evolved with native plants and are attracted to particular leaf chemicals. The leaf chemical allows the insect such as the Fender Blue butterfly and pollinators to find food. Only 10% of insects are generalist feeders. Native Bees do the job for almost 70 percent of the world's flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world's crop species that require insect pollination to reproduce, according to the Vaughn.

How bad is it now? Scientists and bee lovers estimate the 96% of native bumble bees are missing out ecosystems in the US. What else is missing. We are just beginning to search.

Here are10 reasons on why native plants are important according to Gredler.

1. Resource conservation: Native plants do not need a lot of extra water. They are drought resistant. Most native plants that would grow in Oregon and (Washington, British Columbia) valleys do not need extra water in the summer time. They need well adapted to our dry summers.
2. Save on the use of fertilizers and pesticides: Native plants do not need pesticides. They are already acclimated to insect populations and can take care of themselves, thank you. Fertilizers are applied sparingly. Having plants grow in correct soil types is more helpful.
3. Insects need them to survive. As already mentioned: 90% of insects depend on native plants for their survival. 37% of animal species eat herbivorous insects.
4. Native plants in landscapes will stop the desertification of Cascadia.
5. Habitat fragmentation is a hazard to wildlife. Bringing natives back will stop the ecosystem collapse. Native plants provide food, water, and habitat for wildlife.
6. Plants are the only thing on the planet that can harvest the sun's energy and create their own food.
7. Native plants are not necessarily aggressive and can be out done by non-natives. They will need our help to come back. We need to stop planting aggressive non-natives like the Butterfly plant.

Here are few more from other sources:

8. Native plants are important to human health. The vast array of natural chemicals is already the basis for ~25% of all U.S. prescriptions, ranging from aspirin (bark of willow tree) to taxol (bark of pacific yew tree). These plant based medications easily break down in our ecosystems unlike pharmaceutical synthetic hormones and drugs. Use native plants for healing and stop the chemical soup poisoning of our world.
9. Native plant heritage: plants were used for almost everything that humans needed to survive. Think what the world would be like if we stopped producing toxic plastic "stuff" and went back to living simply with few things, essentials made from plants: clothes, homes (not from trees but from fast growing plant fiber and earth such as in Cob buildings). Paper not made from our forests but from fast growing plant fibers. Humans lived with this technology for hundreds of thousands of years. We may have to adjust to new ways of living to survive.
10. Native plants can be used to restore our land. They easily adapt to harsh conditions and have been used in the repair of streams, meadows, savannahs, forests, and other fragile landscapes.

According to Gredler since the 1840's over 80 million acres have been taken out of native landscapes. Landscapes have been paved over, planted in non native turf grass and tilled for non native crops. Gredler called this process the "desertification of Oregon". I call this process the desertification of Cascadia because this destruction of the bio-region is happening everywhere.

According to my other source Kartz and Morse, although only about 737 native plant species are protected by the Endangered Species Act, it is estimated that nearly 25 percent of the 20,000 native plant species in North America are at risk of extinction. It is becoming generally recognized that in order to preserve individual species, their plant communities must be preserved. This includes the preservation of native plants that are not yet in danger of extinction, but still play an important role in native ecosystems.

Native plant species provide the keystone elements for ecosystem restoration. Native plants help to increase the local population of native plant species, providing numerous benefits. There are specific associations of mycorrhizae with plants, invertebrates with woody debris, pollinators with flowers, and birds with structural habitat that can only be rebuilt by planting native plants.

We need your help. Begin today to tear out the turf and aggressive non-natives and plant your yards, patios, pots on a porch etc. to become a native plant repository and sanctuary.


1.Where to find a list of reputable native plant nurseries cascadia

- online PDF booklet of native plant nurseries in Oregon and Washington
- Sources of Pacific Northwest native plants - a online Pdf booklet

2. The plight of the Fenders Blue Butterfly and its relationship to Kincaid's Lupine
If you would like to learn more about the relationship between insects and humans, animals and plants, check out the Xerces Society website at:  http://www.xerces.org


Kartesz, John, North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Larry Morse, The Nature Conservancy. 1997. Personal communication
Kim, Ke Chung (1994) Biodiversity and Conservation, Volume 2, Number 3, 191-214, DOI: 10.1007/BF00056668, Center for Biodiversity Research, The Pennsylvania State University.  http://www.springerlink.com/content/q465056vr1t45u67/


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