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Plant Native or Nearly Native?

It’s not natives or bust. 😱 Yes, I said it. My whole life revolves around planting native and spreading awareness. But it’s true, it’s not all or nothing when it comes to creating a benifical landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, planting native is extremely important for the health of our ecosystems and our environment.

BUT, we need to recognize that we’ve changed our landscapes so dramatically that natives may not be the only solution to providing habitat. We no longer have regular wildfires through our neighborhoods (in which many natives depend on to reproduce). We no longer have hectares of meadows nor the animals that grazed upon and fertilized them. Habitats have been completely demolished across the US.

Large predators have begun to disappear. Many insect and animal species are out of balance causing infestations, disease, and over grazing. Over grazing leads to erosion by loss of brush and shrubs in forested areas and riverbanks, further restructuring what was.

We’ve changed the morphology of our landscape, water cycles, weather patterns, gas cycles etc., so rapidly, it’s unlikely native plants can support the all the wildlife that relies on them, alone. Native plants and animals evolved together over millions of years to create a world that, in many ways, no longer exists. If we want to preserve what we have left, we may need to incorporate plants that can do the most good, for the most amount of species.

"Green thumbs" are gardeners who observe, assess, reassess, adapts and overcomes challenges the landscape. Our Earth is facing extreme challenges so we must learn, unlearn and relearn how to steward our planet. Again, by aiming for a nearly-native* landscape, we can do the greatest amount of good, for the greatest number of species.

Insects (including pollinators) are at the bottom of the food chain and are in grave danger. We're in the midst of the 6th greatest extinction event the earth has ever seen, The Anthropocene Period. Unlike the previous extinction periods, this one is driven by humans. "Among the most affected groups of animals are insects—central components of many ecosystems—for which climate change has pervasive effects from individuals to communities." (Harvey et. al., 2022). Thankfully, there's a shift in our landscape culture starting and they way we approach our landscapes is changing. Pollinator gardens have gained vast popularity. And when it comes down to it, gardening for wildlife is gardening with a purpose. It's easy to garden with a purpose when you garden with natives. They all play a role somewhere and provide something.

When landscaping our homes, we should plant with a purpose. Consider plants for the species they support, the role they play in the environment, and their ability to thrive but not outcompete.

For example, non-native Mexican Sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia (not to be confused with the invasive T. diversafolia) provides endless nectar and habitat to countless of insects in my North Florida landscape. Everytime I walk by it is "buzzing" with life from the hiding tree frogs to the butterflies sipping nectar to the lizards cooling off under its shade, it's a busy plant.

(Pictured: non-native plants that provide a benefit and grown with a purpose.)

Moreover, around the world the Mexican Sunflower is known for being one of the most nutrient rich chop-n-drop crops, replacing synthetic fertilizers. It thrives in the heat of our summers, in almost any soil as long as there's some sun. There's reported medicinal benefits such as relief from stomach pains, indigestion, sore throat and liver pains.

Pair Mexican sunflower it with our native tickseed, salvia, and dune sunflowers for a bright sunset display summer through fall and you've created a nearly-native landscape, with a purpose.

When it comes down to it, we shouldn’t choose plants solely on their visual performance but instead we should consider their role in the ecosystem, adaptability and the resources they provide to us and to the ecosystem, as it is ever changing. Right plant, right place and with a purpose.

Plant Native and Plant with a Purpose,


Check out this new research article (the inspiration for this blog) to see what others are saying

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