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What is a “Native” Plant?

In botany, the term “native” refers to a plant species that naturally occurs and has established itself in a particular geographic region without direct or indirect human intervention. The concept of nativeness is primarily based on the plant’s historical presence and evolutionary adaptation to a specific area.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) nectaring from Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is native only to some of the butterfly’s full native range.

A complete definition of “native” with respect to a plant typically includes the following aspects:

  1. Geographic Origin: A native plant species is one that originated or evolved in a specific geographic region through natural processes, such as evolution, migration, or long-term natural dispersal.
  2. Historical Presence: Native plants have existed in the specified region for an extended period, typically before significant human activities or disruptions significantly altered the landscape.
  3. Natural Establishment: Native plants have established self-sustaining populations within their native range, reproducing and maintaining viable populations through natural means like seed dispersal, pollination, and germination.
  4. Ecological Adaptation: Native plants have undergone evolutionary processes, such as natural selection, to adapt to the environmental conditions, climate, soil types, and interactions with other organisms within their native range. They have coevolved with other native species, forming complex ecological relationships.
  5. Absence of Human Intervention: Native plants have not been introduced, intentionally or accidentally, by human activities like cultivation, intentional seeding, or deliberate transplantation. They have colonized an area through natural mechanisms rather than human intervention.

It’s important to note that the concept of nativeness can vary depending on the context and scale. A plant species can be considered native to a specific country, region, or even a smaller local area, depending on the scope of reference. Additionally, the definition of “native” may differ based on the field of study or specific conservation purposes, as certain definitions may prioritize different criteria or timeframes.

Tropical storms increase an anemochorous plant’s native range.

By learning and understanding botany, we can become better Butterfly Farmers and help restore Larval Host Plants of all our “native” butterflies… one day at a time!

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