Growing up, I remember my Dad hated a certain kind of nettle that grew in our garden. It smelled terrible, felt itchy on our legs, and was a general eye sore. We ripped its roots from the Earth whenever we could, and cursed the obstinate plant that always seemed to grow back twice as strong. My Dad likes to float through hobbies: listening to The Doors on repeat, comparing Airstream trailers, and at one point... actively following our local Native Plant Society. Imagine his horror when one day, he discovered that this nettle we had fought for years was in fact- a native plant.
What exactly does it mean to be a native plant? While definitions of 'native' vary slightly, it is generally understood that a native species thrived in an area prior to human intervention. Exotic plants, on the other hand, are introduced to an area by humans (accidentally or deliberately). An exotic can transform into what we call an invasive, an introduced species that ends up doing so well in its new environment, that it can adversely affect native plants by driving competition for local resources.
The term "invasive", however, can connote something slightly misleading: dangerous, obstructive, annoying, bad. While performing invasive species removal in Arizona, I remember targeting Mullein- a hated invasive. At the same time, I learned from locals that the plant in fact had a rich utilitarian history among the Native Americans who used mullein for its many medicinal properties. Dastardly invasive or useful addition? Assigning a single characterization isn't always so simple.
Taking a critical perspective on local plants can help us to better understand our complicated relationship towards native, exotic, and invasive species. Here is an article from Emma Marris, author of the interesting and reflective ecological work, Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World to further aggravate your curiosity.
The Peanut Butter Fruit Tree of Delray Beach Children's Garden isn't native to Florida- but that doesn't mean that we can't love & nurture it for its glorious taste.
DBCG loves plants- take this fun quiz to find out the ideal native plants for your yard!