Vernal Pools are a native ecosystem dominated by native plants Photo: Eva Butler

What is a native plant?

Our native plants grew here prior to European contact. California’s native plants evolved here over a very long period, and are the plants which the first Californians knew and depended on for their livelihood. These plants have co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes, to form a complex network of relationships. They are the foundation of our native ecosystems, or natural communities.


How do we know which plants are native?

Specimens, seeds, and drawings of new world plants were taken to Europe by early explorers over many years. Thus, American plants were included in ongoing botanical studies of the world’s flora. Also, the science of paleobotany allows scientists to compare fossil records with modern plants to understand which plants are native to an area.

Why are native plants important?

Plants are a cornerstone of biological diversity. Native plants do the best job of providing food and shelter for native wild animals. Native plants are used in the development of new foods, medicines and industrial products. Commercial strawberries were developed using our coast strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, and pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, yielded Taxol, an anti-cancer drug. Native plants are also an essential element in the natural beauty for which California is famous.

Sea Fig (Carpobrotus chilensis) is native to the coasts of South Africa and considered invasive in California Photo: Anthony Valois

Are non-native plants harmful?

Non-native plants such as forget-me-nots and English daisies are widespread, yet fairly harmless. But others take over natural areas and smother native plants. They can do this because the natural pests, foraging animals, diseases or weather conditions which kept the plants in check in their homeland are absent here. These weeds deprive our wild animals of food and shelter. Many weeds belong to the grass, pea and daisy families, with jubata and pampas grass, broom, and Cape ivy as well known problems.

What are the benefits of native plants?

Native vegetation evolved to live with the local climate, soil types, and animals. This long process brings us several advantages when we choose to incorporate native plants in our own gardens. Learn more! 

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