The Importance of Native Plants

by Meghan Barnett, Animal Sciences major

Although landscapes are ever-changing, there is a certain importance of protecting and restoring native plant species in their respective environments. The drastic changes of ecosystems, due to multiple factors, can cause harm to the native species of both plants and creatures that live in them.

Historically, Ohio was a diverse, fire-maintained landscape before European settlement that included oak savannas, oak woodlands, and wet prairies. This landscape has changed significantly over time, however.

During the late 1800s, humans changed the landscape and structure of ecosystems through many actions including agricultural clearing, logging, fire suppression, and wet prairie draining.

Continuing into the 1900s, a once fire-dependent ecosystem is now fragmented and consists of fire-intolerant species with greatly declined plant diversity.

Invasive species have taken the opportunity to take over these disturbed areas with their rapid growth rates and further disrupt the ecosystems.

Restoration of these environments is important.

In Ohio, the iconic monarch butterfly populations have dropped 96.5% over the past few decades according to Scientific American.

This dramatic drop has been attributed to a similar decline in milkweed – the only plant consumed by the monarch and the only leaves on which they will lay their eggs.

Milkweed is regularly removed from areas, typically during the summer which coincides with the breeding season of monarchs.

The monarch butterfly is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether or not they deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act.

This is a prime example of the importance of native plant species to the success of the ecosystem as a whole.

You can help by avoiding exotic plants in your own yard, encouraging native plants, such as milkweed, to flourish, and can even get your backyard to be a certified wildlife habitat.

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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