When ecosystems and habitats become damaged, degraded, or otherwise destroyed, they need assistance returning to full health. One of the most cost-effective and sustainable methods used in habitat restoration involves using native plants. Native plants are adapted to specific environments through their root systems, water intake capacity, and ability to provide food for local wildlife. From creating resilience by strengthening local soils to providing sustenance for native species, habitat restoration plants offer many benefits to the environment.
What are Native Plants?
The term "native plant" has a universal meaning, but not every location has the same kind of indigenous plants. In the United States, some of the most common native species are grasses. However, there are regional differences. In the Southwest, for example, many indigenous plants are cacti. Regardless of their variety, native plants are specially adapted to survive in local conditions. Like ferns, some have deep root systems and proliferate, making them an ideal choice for rapid habitat restoration. Ferns tend to thrive in moist environments with partial shade. They are excellent choices for forested areas in many regions nationwide. Similarly, prairie grasses like purple coneflowers thrive in prairies and savannas in many areas. By replanting native species, you play a vital role in habitat restoration.
How to Begin
Planting native habitat restoration plants are very beneficial, provided you plant correctly. Even though they're adapted to local growing conditions, native plants must still be planted according to specific instructions to ensure they survive and benefit the local environment. To start, you'll need to remove existing seeds and vegetation from the area that you want to restore. This might sound counter-intuitive, but it is the only surefire way to help plants grow from seed. Ideally, you'll plant native plants during the coldest months of the year, as they need to undergo a period of cold and moisture before they can germinate. Particular planting guidelines are also available for unique situations, such as replanting steep slopes and planting only grasses.
Restoring Critical Areas
Some habitat areas are more vulnerable than others. Steep slopes, riverbanks, and the oceanfront regions, for instance, are especially susceptible to destruction. If you plan to use plants to restore these habitats, you'll have to select specific plants and flowers that have adapted to growing in extreme conditions. Plants with deep root systems are best. If you want to plant trees, northern black cottonwood, red alder, and the Pacific willow are top choices. They increase and thrive in saturated soil. Shrubs like serviceberry, Hooker willow, and cascara are colorful choices for full to partial sun. Groundcover species, like bugleweed and wintercreeper, are hardy and attractive groundcovers. They create deep, lattice root systems that anchor soil and dirt in place. Therefore, they're top choices for steep slopes and areas prone to washout or soil erosion.
Over the years, habitats can be destroyed by natural forces and by human activity. While you can't stop environmental degradation on your own, you can at least find ways to mitigate it. Using native plants to restore a damaged ecosystem is a great way to improve the area's resilience. Furthermore, you'll help bring back a vital food supply and habitat for pollinators, local animals, and even humans. From trees to grasses, there are many good options for habitat restoration plants.