Native vs. Invasive Plants
According to the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, there are more than 4,200 plant species naturally occurring in the state. Nearly 3,000 are considered native. The Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) defines native plants as “those species occurring within the state boundaries prior to European contact, according to the best available scientific and historical documentation.” In other words, the plants that grew in natural habitats that existed prior to development.
Native plants evolved in their own ecological niches. They are suited to the local climate and can survive without fertilization, irrigation or cold protection. Because a single native plant species usually does not dominate an area, there is biodiversity. Native plants and wildlife evolved together in communities, so they complement each other’s needs. Florida ranks 7th among all 50 states in biodiversity for number of species of vertebrates and plants. Deer browse on native vines like Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). The seeds and berries of Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) and Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) provide vital food for songbirds, both local and migratory. Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) provides cover for numerous birds and small mammals, as well as, reptiles.
Non-native plants become “naturalized” if they establish self-sustaining populations. Nearly one-third of the plants currently growing wild in Florida are not native. While these plant species from other parts of the world may provide some of the resources needed by native wildlife, it comes at a cost to the habitat. These exotic plants can become “invasive”, meaning they displace native plants and change the diverse population into a monoculture of one species. Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), Popcorn trees (Triadica sebifera) and Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) have changed the landscape of Florida over the past decade. While Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) have change water flow in many rivers and lakes. These invasive species cost millions of taxpayer dollars to control.
By choosing to use native plants and removing non-native invasive plants, individuals can reduce the disruptions to natural areas, improve wildlife habitat and maintain Florida’s biodiversity.