What's So Special About Native Plants?
Native Plants Are Part of a Balanced System
Native wildlife and native plants depend on each other for continued survival. The animals need the native vegetation for their food and shelter. Birds will eat the fruit from the plants, or eat the insects attracted to the flowers of a plant. They shelter and nest in the trees and bushes, and use the native plant materials for their nests. Animals forage on the plants greenery, or hunt the smaller animals attracted to the plants. Often, these diets support and maintain intricate vitamin, mineral, enzyme, bacteria and microbe systems within the animals' systems that keep the animal healthy.
In turn, the plants receive help from the wildlife. Birds and insects distribute their pollen. Passing animals pick up seeds to distribute. Many seeds need to pass through a particular animal's digestive system before they will germinate. Raccoons and Coffeeberry seem to have this relationship on Montara Mountain. The plants depend on the waste from the animals' particular diet to supply needed nutrients to the soil.
The connections go much deeper than just plants and larger animals. Native plants are a key component of the intricate web of life in native habitats. Microbes and fungi in the soil help their roots take in nutrients, or break down dead plant matter into usable components again. Insects eat their leaves, spread their pollen and seeds, and are food for larger animals.
To remove a species of native plant might be to remove the only species a certain caterpillar will eat - the caterpillar will die out and the bird that fed on the caterpillar and the moth will move on; the plant that the moth pollinated will die out, and the rabbit young that subsisted on its spring leaves will not have part of their regular diet. The rabbit population will drop, and so will the hawk, owl and bobcat population. The other plants that the rabbit ate will now grow unchecked, perhaps crowding out less aggressive plants that relied upon the rabbits' munching to give them room to grow. The sudden shift in species distribution will change the chemical balance of the soil, which will drain down to the creeks during the winter rains, altering the habitat balance there of fish, insects, and plants. The web is very far-reaching, and the strands are much tighter than you might think.
Native Plants Conserve Resources and Maintain Natural Systems
Native plants have evolved to exist and flourish within the limits of the local resources. They do not need extra water, fertilizers, plant foods or special soils beyond what is locally available. They can be propagated under local conditions. They put no load on water supplies, they maintain the local chemistry to minimize natural toxins, and they require no extra infrastructure to support them.
Nothing will need to brought in by car, truck, train, plane, or pipe to support a native plant.
Native plants also maintain the natural systems of the area around them. In our coastal areas, they regulate the heavy rains in the winter so that erosive flooding doesn't occur in the creeks. In the dry times, their intricate branching and small leaf systems catch and condense the sea fog to supply moisture for themselves and the surrounding areas. A single, mature coyote bush can stabilize a 10 foot square area with its root system. The dense willow thickets provide cooling shade for the riparian areas to support the animals that live there.
Native Plants Preserve Biodiversity
The web of life in a native habitat is not only intricately balanced, it is also dynamic. Changing climates, from a single dry winter to an advancing ice age, require a level of adaptability that can only come from a high level of biodiversity.
A healthy natural environment supports a wide range of species, and produces many variations of a species, some better at surviving in certain conditions than others. This variation and diversity is essential for any community, be it plant, animal, or human, to survive through times of change.
It is also part of the larger dynamic of this living planet, an integral element to the sustaining of life and the evolution of us all. An area that has preserved this dynamic is to be cherished, celebrated, and protected. It is a marvel that we have that here on Montara Mountain.