What Are Native Plants and Why Should We Plant Them?

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Native plants are a vital part of our ecosystem. They provide food and shelter for native insects, birds and wildlife all year round. They are a critical link in the chain for bees and other pollinators that insure our food supply. They are adapted to our soils and climate and are therefore easier to establish and grow, requiring much less water and fertilizer. They are a source of carefree beauty for the landscape.


“Only 3-5% of undisturbed habitat is left in the USA. It is inadequate to support our native species. 95% of the native plants and animals could become extinct  within our lifetimes. Alien species do not sustain our native wildlife- from those we see to those we don’t- including pollinators and vital links in our food chain.”  

Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home



Native plant (also called wildflowers) – a plant native to North America.

Examples: Rudbeckia, Mertensia virginica, Lobelia cardinalis

Native plants can embrace not just the straight species but can be loosely defined to include all cultivars, varieties, and hybrids. Purists consider only the straight species originally found here as natives. Others use a broader definition. The nomenclature is explained as follows:


  • Genus– a group of related plants.
  • Species  (spp.) individuals within a genus that can breed with each other.
  • Sub species – plants within a species that are different in small ways from each other; usually found within a specific place (geographical region)
  • Variety -(var.)  a group within a species that has significant small differences from the rest of the members.
  • Cultivar – (cv.) Cultivated variety. A plant know only in cultivation that that may have been selected from a naturally occurring variety and propagated for garden use.
  • Hybrid – result of cross fertilization of 2 species, sub species, or varieties.


Naturalized plant – Foreign plants that have settled into American soil. May take hold and become quite common. Examples: Queen Anne’s Lace, blue chicory, Hemerocallis fulva, buttercups.

Environmental weeds – Plants that have drastically upset the balance of nature, taking over and eliminating natives. Examples: multiflora rose, lythrum, kudzu.



The Natural Habitat Garden , Ken Druse, 1994, Clarkson Potter

Noah’s Garden, Sarah Stein, 1993, Houghton Mifflin Co.

Great Natives for Tough Places, Niall Dunne, editor, 2009, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Bringing Nature Home, Douglas W. Tallamy, 2009, Timber Press

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens, Allan M. Armitage, 2006, Timber Press

Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines, William Cullina, 2002, Houghton Mifflin Co.

N.E. Wild Flower Soc.Growing + Propagating Wildflowers of the U. S. + Canada, William Cullina, 2000, Houghton Mifflin Co.

Native Ferns, Moss and Grasses, William Cullina, 2008, Houghton Mifflin Co.


In an effort to provide horticultural information, these educational documents are written by Nancy DuBrule-Clemente and are the property of Natureworks Horticultural Services, LLC.  You are granted permission to print/photocopy this educational information free of charge as long as you clearly show that these are Natureworks documents