By now you’ve probably heard some – or a lot – about the importance of choosing native plants over invasive and non-native plants.
As it turns out, knowing the difference between native plants, non-native plants, and invasive plants can be simple but nuanced. But we are here to help navigate the differences!
Native plants are plants that have historically occurred in a place.
Native plants, also called indigenous plants, have been growing in a particular habitat or region for thousands of years. This also has allowed them plenty of time to adapt to specific conditions. As a general rule, conservation practitioners categorize native plants as plants that occurred in an area prior to European colonization of North America.
Native plants are adapted to local soils and climate. This means they require less water and chemicals – reducing the needs for pesticides and fertilizers that can pollute waterways.
They have also formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife. These specialized relationships allow native plants to provide more robust habitat for wildlife than other plants can.
Non-native plants are plants that have not historically occurred in a place but have been introduced by human activity.
Non-native plants, also called introduced plants, are plants living somewhere other than the location they evolved in. They can be introduced to a region either accidentally or deliberately. They don’t necessarily pose a threat to native plants or wildlife. Some can even be beneficial to humans and wildlife. They are often grown in gardens and parks for their aesthetic beauty or delightful taste.
You might recognize some non-native plants in your own backyard or on your dinner table. Non-native plants, like dahlias and tomatoes, present no threat to native plants or wildlife and have been cultivated outside their natural range for centuries.
Invasive plants are non-native plants that can spread rapidly and harm humans, the environment, or the economy.
Like other non-native plants, invasive plants can be intentionally or accidentally brought to an area. But, unlike many harmless non-native plants, invasive plants outcompete native plants, displace wildlife, and alter ecosystems.
Outside of their natural habitat, invasive plants grow out of control due to the absence of their natural predators and constraints. This allows them to spread quickly and become difficult to eradicate.
Just to keep you on your toes, there is another term that you’ll hear about related to invasive species – noxious weeds.
Noxious weeds are plants that have been designated by a federal, state, or local government as harmful to public health, agriculture, recreation, wildlife, or property.
Noxious weeds are particularly harmful to humans, livestock, or crops. A plant can be classified as noxious if it is toxic to touch or eat, destroys a natural habitat, or causes millions of dollars in lost agricultural production. Once a plant is classified as noxious, government agencies can take specific actions to limit its spread or destroy it.
The Oregon Department of Agricultural maintains a Noxious Weed List and prevents the sale and trading of particular species in Oregon.
Want to learn more?
- Visit our friends at the Backyard Habitat Certification Program to find local nurseries that sell native plants.
- Browse our Weed & Pest Directory to learn more about invasive species in the Tualatin River watershed.
- Visit our tool loan program to borrow tools to remove invasive plants from your property or community space.