Because life on Planet Earth is fueled by the energy captured from the sun by Plants, the diversity of life on land has been developed according to the diversity of Plants within the ecosystem. Plantlife evolved for millions of years learning to survive, thrive, and diversify on land. Through millions of years of evolutionary wisdom, Plantlife spread across Planet Earth and touched every geographical region of Planet Earth, however, not a single Plant is similar from two different regions on earth.
Every geographical region is different and unique, and based on this uniqueness of the soil type and available resources of that region; Plantlife has diversified uniquely. Based on the available Plants, the animal kingdom diversified within an ecosystem. An ecosystem of a region is a complex web of interconnected life. Every element of an ecosystem is connected with each other, from microbial Fungi to humans to rivers, mountains, and Forest, each one of them has the ability to influence every member of that ecosystem individually and collectively.
What is Native Plant?
The term “native” Plant commonly refers to Plants indigenous to a particular geographic region. Native Plants are the unique expression of a certain region that developed over millions of years of evolution. Over time those Plants have adapted to local environmental and social influences such as micro-climates, soil types and hydrology, and animal influences. In this context, native Plants are the ecological basis upon which the complex web of life depends on, evolves and revolves around.
Without the native Plants and the microbial Fungi and other insects which coevolved with the Plants, the harmony within the ecosystem gets interrupted, and every life form within the ecosystem gets affected, and some animals like birds cannot survive for long within the disharmony of the ecosystem. This is why different species of animals and birds are going extinct nowadays.
For example, research by the entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown that U.S. native Oak Trees support over 500 species of caterpillars, whereas Ginkgos, a commonly planted landscape Tree from Asia, hosts only five species of caterpillars. When it takes over 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of chickadees, that is a significant difference. Native Plants are the first building block that enables and sustains biodiversity within an ecosystem.
Native Plants and Biodiversity
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Planet Earth. The great diversity of life on this planet maintains the life-support systems the animal kingdom needs for basic survival. The air, the water, soil that supports Plant growth, all those basic elements of the environment that are dependent on biodiversity, the diversity of species of Planet Earth. With losing biodiversity, the planet loses its ability to provide many of the elements all species need to survive and the spectrum of colors and sounds of life on Earth.
To put it simply, the choice of Plants which humans add to their gardens and landscapes can have an impact on biodiversity as the researchers have shown that native Plants provide the greatest benefit in biodiversity. Native Plants support and enhance native insect populations, which in turn support larger animals creating a “food web” of interconnected species.
Insects are an important transition point for energy within the food cycle. Since many of them consume Plant material, they consume the energy Plants harness from the sun and turn it into protein that larger animals need. As insects consume, the vital energy the sun provides is transferred to the animal kingdom and supports a diverse food web.
If native Plants can begin to fill a larger proportion of an ecosystem, then the whole ecosystem can become a valuable habitat to support native wildlife. By planting more native Plants, humans can not only provide a home for local flora but can support a fauna.
Regenerative Agriculture with Native Plants
Feeding growing populations with increasing demands for quality, savory, healthy, and attractive food is an important challenge for humanity. Rather than increasing crop diversity, contemporary agricultural practices have strived to improve the productivity of a small number of existing crops. In her book, “Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love”, Simran Sethi showed that collectively humans cultivate only about 150 out of an estimated 30,000 edible Plant species.
Even within these few species, genetic diversity has decreased as the number of marketed varieties has shrunk. For example, out of more than 7,000 varieties of apples grown in the United States in the last century, over 6,000 varieties have become extinct. At the same time, research efforts focus primarily on improving the productivity of a few existing crop species rather than increasing crop diversity. This represents a serious loss of agro-biodiversity and depletion of genetic diversity, leading to the food industry and human populations being more susceptible to stressors associated with global environmental change.
In 2008, F. D. Provenza demonstrated that developing new crops and learning to use wild Plants creates the potential to diversify global food production and enable better local adaptation to the diverse and changing environments humans inhabit.
Author and radical farmer Charles Massy, in this groundbreaking book, “Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture-A New Earth”, wrote—regenerative-ecological agriculture can restore the Earth and human health through the five processes that enable and link all life within an ecosystem:
- The flow of energy, captured by Plants through photosynthesis;
- Soil-mineral cycles that provide nutrients for life;
- The water cycle is essential for life;
- Ecological relationships that create soil-Plant-animal communities; and
- Human-land linkages, including landscape-genomics and humans’ dialogue with nature.
As part of those essential linkages, humans could also benefit from re-learning to be dependent on native Plants as sources of healthy food and other products, with attention and concern for environmental issues. Sethi, in her book, described the potential loss of food diversity in detail, and the FAO estimates there has been a 75% reduction in crop diversity globally that indicates the importance of the cultivation of native crop Plants.
Diversity is an essential quality of creation. Concentrating on the large-scale production of few existing Plants and practicing monoculture is like going against the creation, which has serious consequences. Understanding native Plants and the significant role they play in biodiversity can lead to the animal kingdom, including humanity, to harmonious Planet Earth.
To date, most studies and practical efforts have been dedicated to improving existing crops rather than recruiting new, native species. Native Plants and food production should receive more attention in research and application to start and empower regenerative agriculture. Moving from monocultures to more diverse native crops and domestication of new species can conserve biological resources and help to foster a more sustainable agroecosystem. However, the use of native Plants in local food production has not yet attained a high level of awareness.
- Massy, C. (2017). Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture–A New Earth. Brisbane, QLD: University of Queensland Press.
- Provenza, D. F. (2008). What does it mean to be locally adapted, and who cares anyway? Journal of Animal Science, [online] Volume, 86(14), p. 271–284. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2007-0468 [Accessed 11th October 2021].
- Sethi, S. (2015). Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
- Shand, H. (2000). Biological meltdown: the loss of agricultural biodiversity. Reimagine Race Poverty Environ. [online] Available at: http://www.reimaginerpe.org/node/921 [Accessed 11th October 2021].