What Is a Native, Anyway?
To keep things simple, ANPP defines natives as the plants that were already growing in Acadiana before Europeans arrived. Non-native (or exotic) plants were introduced here by human activity. In most cases, these species can’t survive and reproduce on their own without our care, such as Oriental camellias or azaleas. Naturalized plants are non-native species that reproduce and disperse into the wild, like Chinese tallow tree or Japanese honeysuckle. Native or non-native species that grow aggressively and may easily dominate a landscape are described as invasive.
Why Are Natives Important?
Residential and commercial development, traditional maintenance practices, and the use of non-native plants in many gardens disrupts habitat and food sources critical to local and migratory bird and animal species. More and more people are waking up to the importance of bringing native plants back to our gardens, but like other communities around the U.S., it can be a challenge to get our hands on the right plants. Acadiana Native Plant Project is here to help!
In terms of natural heritage, south-central Louisiana is situated at the cusp of three major ecosystems. To our east is the one-million-acre mosaic of bottomland hardwood forests and cypress-tupelo swamps of the Atchafalaya River Basin. To our west was once more than two million acres of coastal tallgrass prairie, now mostly converted to rice, sugarcane, and livestock pastures. To our south are three million acres of marshlands separating us from the Gulf of Mexico.
Our landscape was changed forever by European settlement, farming, urbanization, and the introduction of non-native species, with estimates that up to 97% of our landscape was altered by human activities. Loss of habitat to lawns and non-native landscaping plants displaces our wildlife, too. South Louisiana is home to the largest bird migration pathway in the world, and this degree of habitat loss significantly impacts these species by removing their food sources, shelter, and reproductive habitat.
Botanists, biologists, and concerned citizens are working to preserve and restore coastal tallgrass prairie habitat by borrowing plants, seeds, and cuttings from the few remaining prairie remnants. Similar projects are happening in bottomland hardwood and slope hardwood forest settings, as well as our marshland habitats. Still, species loss is accelerating, pollinator populations are crashing, and scientists warn we are losing genetic diversity throughout. All of us can play a part in saving what remains by returning native plants—along with the many unique, beautiful and diverse insects, birds, and other animals that depend on them—to our own cultivated landscapes.
Greaux Native! And Buy As Local As You Can
Native plants are already naturally prepared for our climate, soil, and rainfall patterns, and for interaction with other local plants, insects, and animals. They can survive and flourish under our heat, humidity, and disease pressures without extra inputs of chemicals and water. Scientists now recommend we cultivate natives originating within a 50- to 100-mile radius of where we live, to help preserve local “ecotypes,” the genetically unique plant populations best adapted to our local environment. Staying as local as possible with our plant purchases and propagation provides a horticultural edge in superior foliage, flowering, seed set and germination, as well as in preserving local genes to preserve the vigor associated with local stock. Reputable nurseries will tell you where their plants come from. Seed and plants guaranteed to be “native local ecotypes” are best.