It’s common knowledge now that when it comes to plants, native species are definitely better than nonnative species, right? No questions asked, no need to clarify.
Well, although it is true that native plant species are generally preferred, too much of a focus on pro-native plant policies can miss big problems and lead to big costs that may simply not be worth it.
Native plants are praised because they are naturally acclimated and reflect the history of the landscape they are native to; however, just because some plants are native to a landscape doesn’t mean they can’t pose problems. There are native plant species that can become invasive and disrupt the lives of the creatures they co-exist with.
Poison ivy, for example, is a common native plant that is more of a nuisance to humans than to animals. It causes problems because of a distinct chemical called urushiol. Urushiol is the compound in the plant that makes our skin all red, itchy, and uncomfortable; definitely not fun. The chemical can cause allergic reactions that range from mild to lethal, depending on the person.
(Poison ivy: not just one of Batman’s nemeses, but a nuisance to landscapes and boy scouts alike.)
An over-abundance of the plant in one area can result in serious health and safety issues, and getting rid of it can be tricky if the proper precautions aren’t taken. And, with the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, poison ivy will become more rampant and potent across our landscapes.
A variety of removal techniques have been developed, even including using fenced livestock as natural plant control.
Going to extremes to keep out innocuous invaders can be a losing proposition, both in terms of money and labor.
Think about landscapes that have already been overtaken by nonnative plant species; imagine the cost and time of uprooting all those plants and re-introducing native species — which can be costly to propagate. Government agencies have limited budgets and often little expertise in this kind of horticultural restoration, and so it is difficult to get funding approved for large-scale projects.
In terms of legislation, politicians have a hard enough time passing laws directly impacting the lives of the citizens they serve, let alone legislation about plants.
Another issue is the challenge of maintaining programs to control invasive species. Whether on federal or local lands, native plant policies can shift depending on which political party or landowners are involved; this leads to inconsistency, and inconsistency leads to ineffectiveness when a problem requires sustained investments and work.
Rather than taking an overzealous approach to native plants, being realistic and weighing the pluses and minuses is really the way to go.