WHY plant native?

Plants that are native to this place took a long time honing relationships with other organisms (including humans). Whether this was working out partnerships with microbial communities in the soil, attracting or repelling insects for various services (pollination, protection, decomposing) or providing services to others (largely food), plants belong to a nested (think intertwined), complex living system. Without their conversion of solar energy to chemical energy, none of the organisms in the system would be alive. Keeping this complex living system intact is simple on the surface, but alas, plants don't have advertising budgets. If they could, native plants would tell you:
  • I can help you save WATER! I have evolved in this water-limited environment and have strategies to cope. Though you will need to water me in when you first plant me, you don't have to keep this cycle going endlessly. See our plant care page for more information.

  • Please don't use pesticides and fertilizers on me! Though caterpillars and other bugs may create unsightly holes in my leaves, the BIRDS rely on these creatures to feed their babies. Without them, you'll sure miss bird song, not to mention butterflies and moths as caterpillars mature. Also, if you plant a non-native, chances are that fewer bugs can make use of those leaves. As a result, the breakdown of leaves into soil takes longer. The other benefit of this is that it saves you money (on fertilizers and pesticides), is healthier (for everyone) and improves water quality, therefore saving you tax dollars. 

  • Plant many different native plants! Since your food crops depend on bees for pollination, please give the bees food (pollen and nectar) for different times of year. Avoid monocultures (repeat of single plant many times over) if you want to help out bees! This also gives you a direct payback in terms of food -- without bees, we'll all struggle to eat. Diversity in a home garden also adds to the diversity of soil organisms found, which in turn makes for healthier soil that can contribute more to the health of your plants and you!

  • Plant me to attract wildlife! These creatures (insects, birds, and mammals) depend on me and my kin to support them. In turn, I rely on them to take my seed to other places, so that I can feed more wildlife, hold the soil in place and keep converting the energy of the sun to energy found in food. The big benefit to you is lowered blood pressure -- through many wildlife observations. 

  • I am BEAUTIFUL because I am part of the landscape where you live! Supporting me doesn't take much effort as I've done all the hard work of adaptation to this place over millenia. I don't require extra work by you...just keep out the invasive non-native competitors, water me in when you first plant me, but otherwise, let me be. I'll help make the soil, air, water and YOU healthier and happier. 

WHAT is a native plant?

Every plant is native to somewhere, right? Of course! A plant in its native habitat has taken many years to evolve intricate relationships with other organisms. Though plants can't move like animals or communicate, they've managed to assemble an arsenal of chemicals to assist them in these functions -- sending out signals to attract pollinators, repel herbivores, find nutrients in the soil, determine the direction of growth or even tell their neighbors to watch out for an insect attack. When you plant a non-native plant, this full complexity is not possible to replicate. Most often, we don't know what effects an introduced plant will have prior to putting in our landscapes.

Is it native if it occurs in Tarrant County, Texas, southeastern, United States or North America? Well, the truth is that plants don't obey the rules of political boundaries. Populations of a species occur in areas based on soil type, rainfall, community associations (plant-based, not your typical HOA's!) and other environmental parameters. If we lived in a perfect world, native plant markets would be able to provide regional examples of natives for landscapes close to them. However, since the market for native plants is just beginning in Texas, the number of available natives on the market is small. This project grew out of a desire by BRIT to get more natives into home landscapes, as this equals greater ecological health. So, as more natives reach consumer markets, we will improve this tool for you by refining choices that you may have. In the meantime, for the purposes of this website, we've considered a plant native if it naturally occurs in Texas. We realize that's a broad brush to paint with, so to ensure your success at growing these plants, we added in our knowledge of physiography (structure and shape of the earth including geology), climate, experience with growing natives and an easily adoptable aesthetic. 

How do we know about which plants occur where? We know about the distribution and occurrence of native plants in Texas (and really, worldwide) thanks to the efforts of botanists, paleobotanists and archaeologists. Botanists note when they find a plant in a specific location and often take a specimen to identify and store in an herbarium, like BRIT's. This data is collected by herbaria around the world and shared widely. Maps of plants and their occurrences are well known to botanists, even though new discoveries are happening all the time. Paleobotanists may collect data related to the evolutionary history of plants either through pollen or other plant fossils or remnants. Archaeologists collect data through analysis of human sites (prehistoric and historic) and largely deal with charred plant remains or leftovers on stone tools. The aggregation of this data from multiple sources (including work by other scientists, like geologists) help us understand where plants naturally occur and also, where they might have been carried. This helps us understand not only the distribution of plants, but the influence of the most widespread organism -- humans!

WHY are native plants different from "adapted" or "right place, right plant" plants?

By virtue many years of evolution, plants that have evolved in a specific region have taken this time frame to know their neighbors. This means that they have long term relationships with organisms that they interact with -- all constrained by limiting factors due to specific geology, climate and the needs of their neighbors. Selecting a native plant means that you are supporting the naturally occurring system -- in place here long before you were. This is not necessarily true of plants that are "adapted". This word and the phrase "right plant, right place" were developed on the basis of whether a plant can physically survive local conditions. In other words, "adaptive" plants can persist with certain precipitation and temperature regimes of any area in which they are planted. Most plants sold as "adaptive" are not native. However, some are and this is confusing to the you, the consumer.

For the discerning buyer, you should know that most "adaptive" plants did not evolve here and thus, do not have long term relationships with our ecosystems. The use of the term "adapted" in this instance is a very narrow version based on human desires (to have plants that can live in your environment). As a result, they provide very little local benefit or connection to other local organisms, though they can affect them. Choosing native plants over horticulturally "adapted" plants or "right plant, right place" is a choice that supports native butterflies, moths, bees, other insects, birds, mammals, soil microbia, water conservation and more. 





© The Botanical Research Institute of Texas. The BRIT Ecoscapes Project is made possible by a grant from the Ann L & Carol Green Rhodes Charitable Trust.