July 2, 2010

Native or Exotic Plants - Not Always an Easy Choice

There are so many plants to choose from to install in your home landscape. There is a common battle-cry of "Go Native ! " and there are many good reasons to plant native species. There are equal reasons to plant exotic species as well. Neither is categorically good or bad, although native plant enthusiasts have a few compelling reasons to plant native species (there are rather few native invasive weed species, and many are low-care, thrifty-on-fertilizer species). If we want really flashy flowering plants, or dazzling leaf patterns, then exotic species have a lot of appeal. Consider the idea of tree-dwelling plants like orchids, staghorn ferns, and bromeliads as we see on many trees here. Many native species are more subtle, and some are well adapted to our weather and storm conditions ( see previous blog about exotic plants). There are fundamental differences for both camps, and plant societies to vigorously defend each ideology. There are such enormous variables and differences in planting techniques, site choices, proximity to salt air, and on and on. Homogenizing plants into "native" or "exotic" is a huge disservice.

Native plant people would say that native plant species attract and foster native wildlife at many levels. Yet many exotics do the same, to different degrees. Many wildlife species have expanded their menus to include feeding on exotic species, since we have had them around for so long. Whether to plant natives or exotics is an equal choice on many levels, but it boils down to some basic choices: the right plant for the right place; the look you want for your landscape; ethical decisions of trying to replace lost native species; and doing some research on which native species will grow for you. Remember, "native" means that the species lives here in Florida, it doesn't unilaterally mean it will grow for you, in your conditions, or on your property. After all, Bald Cypress trees won't grow well on solid rock in the middle of a dry field, Lignum Vitae won't grow well in deep shade in a wet area, and so on. There are native and exotic plants for every taste and condition. Use our local expertise to research and plant what grows well for you in your conditions.

Craig Morell

Pinecrest Gardens

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