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Are Native Plants Better Than Exotic Plants?

In online gardening circles, native plants often hold a mythical status. They’re commonly perceived as the perfect fit for any garden, regardless of location or conditions. However, it’s time we re-evaluate these beliefs and delve deeper into the true nature of native plants. In this article, we’ll explore some commonly held beliefs and try to bust a few myths.

Is that rainbow lorikeet feeding on the flowers of an aloe? Doesn’t it know that’s not a native Australian plant?

Understanding Native Plants

What Are Native Plants?

Native plants are species that have evolved over thousands of years in specific geographical regions. They’ve adapted to the soils, weather conditions, and the ecology of these areas.

For instance, species like kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos spp.), yellow buttons (Chrysocephalum spp.), scavola (Scaevola spp.), lilly pillies (Syzygium, Acmena and Waterhousea spp.) and bottlebrushes (Callistemon spp.) are all native to different parts of Australia.

It’s important to note the difference between the terms “native,” and “endemic.” Native plants are native to anywhere in Australia, while endemic plants are native to a particular area.

The Diversity of Native Plants Across the Country

Australia, with its vast expanse and varied climates, hosts an incredible diversity of native plants. Species that flourish in the tropical rainforests of Queensland may not survive in the arid landscapes of Western Australia.

This regional variation is a testament to the adaptability of nature but also serves as a reminder that not all native plants are suitable for every garden or landscape.

Debunking the Myths Around Native Plants

Myth 1: All Native Plants are Suited to Your Local Conditions

The reality is urban environments have significantly altered natural conditions. The soil composition, water availability, and even local fauna have changed, affecting how native plants grow and thrive.

What used to thrive in the natural landscape before your builder dumped the subsoil on top of the topsoil, and the ecology completely changed, may no longer be as happy in the same location.

Myth 2: All Native Plants are Drought Tolerant

While some native plants have adapted to withstand drought, others, such as those from rainforest and wetland environments, require consistent moisture. For example, syzygiums generally thrive in well-drained, moist soils, and many varieties don’t fare well in prolonged dry conditions or heavy clays.

Myth 3: All Native Plants are Pest and Disease Resistant

Native plants have evolved along with endemic pests and diseases. Nature is an arms race, where pests and diseases are constantly adapting to the resistance of plants, and plants are in turn constantly adapting to the enhanced pests and diseases.

This means that native plants are most certainly prone to their own native pests and diseases. Also, they may not have resistance to exotic pests and diseases introduced from other regions or countries.

Myth 4: All Native Plants are Better for Our Wildlife

While native plants often provide valuable habitats and food sources for local wildlife, many animals also interact positively with exotic plants. Try and tell the pollinating insects and birds to stay away from my exotic Duranta plant!

Recognising the Benefits of Native Plants

Despite the myths, each native plant offers numerous benefits when chosen wisely. Instead of lumping all native plants together, we should consider each plant individually, playing to their strengths and working with their weaknesses.

Practical Advice for Choosing Native Plants for Your Garden

Consider Your Local Conditions

Understanding your local climate, soil type, and sunlight availability is crucial in choosing the right native plants for your garden.

Understand Your Garden’s Needs

Consider factors like shade, sunlight, and soil type in your garden. These will guide you in selecting plants that not only survive but thrive in your garden.

Choose the Right Native Plants for Your Garden

Research and seek advice on which native species are appropriate for your specific garden conditions. The right choices can lead to a healthier, more vibrant garden.

Daniel’s Wrap

The importance of understanding the real characteristics of individual plants cannot be overstated. Recognising their diversity and unique adaptations allows us to make informed decisions when choosing plants for our gardens.

Let’s celebrate our native flora by appreciating them for what they truly are, rather than what myths suggest.

Daniel is a writer and content creator for Ozbreed, one of Australia's leading native and exotic plant breeders.

Daniel has worked in various capacities within the horticulture industry. His roles have ranged from team leader at several companies, to creator of the Plants Grow Here podcast and Hort People job board, as well as his position on the National Council for the Australian Institute of Horticulture (AIH).

He's passionate about explaining how to care for different types of plants to ensure home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike can get the most out of the plant babies.

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