Spring is planting time for home gardeners, landscapers, and public works agencies across the U.S. And there’s rising demand for native plants—species that are genetically adapted to the specific regions where they are used.
Native plants have evolved with local climates and soil conditions. As a result, they generally require less maintenance, such as watering and fertilizing, after they become established, and they are hardier than non-native species.
Many federal, state, and city agencies rank native plants as a first choice for restoring areas that have been disturbed by natural disasters or human activities like mining and development. Repairing damaged landscapes is a critical strategy for slowing climate change and species loss.
But there’s one big problem: There aren’t enough native seeds. This issue is so serious that it was the subject of a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The study found an urgent need to build a native seed supply.
As plant scientists who have worked on ecological restoration projects, we’re familiar with this challenge. Here’s how we are working to promote the use of native plants for roadside restoration in New England, including by building up a seed supply network.
The need for native plants
Many stressors can damage and degrade land. They include natural disasters, such as wildfires and flooding, and human actions, such as urbanization, energy production, ranching and development.
Invasive plants often move into disturbed areas, causing further harm. They may drift there on the wind, be excreted by birds and animals that consume fruit, or be introduced by humans, unintentionally or deliberately.
Ecological restoration aims to bring back degraded lands’ native biological diversity and the ecological functions that these areas provided, such as sheltering wildlife and soaking up floodwater. In 2021, the United Nations launched the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to promote such efforts worldwide.
Native plants have many features that make them an essential part of healthy ecosystems. For example, they provide long-term defense against invasive and noxious weeds; shelter local pollinators and wildlife; and have roots that stabilize soil, which helps reduce erosion.
Restoration projects require vast quantities of native seeds—but commercial …
Leave a Reply