Native plants are trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses and other plants which occur naturally to a particular region. These plants provide a less labor intensive and water efficient landscape which is beneficial to commercial businesses, home owners, and the environment. Conversely, an invasive plant is an exotic species that has the ability to thrive and spread aggressively outside its natural range. Plants are the first line of defense when it comes to erosion control and stormwater management. Understanding plant species’ susceptibility to water-level fluctuations and landscape pollutants will enable better stormwater detention treatment and aesthetically pleasing environments.
Native plants, in rain gardens and in landscaping in general, are preferred because they are best adapted to soil and temperature conditions in a particular area. Because they have adapted to local conditions, native plants require no fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, or watering (once established). Native plants are also resistant to most pests and diseases and provide food and shelter of native animals. In regions with heavy clay soil, deep rooted native plants can break-up the soil better than typical varieties of lawn grass and improve clay soil’s permeability, ultimately acting as a green stormwater alternative. Trapping localized stormwater on site through the use of native plants can ensure percolation and increased filtration of nutrients entering the ground water. The extensive and deep root systems of native plants (see image below) slow down runoff, reduce soil erosion along river and stream banks, and absorb dirty water before it gets into the nearby waterways. Greater infiltration from native plants results in better pollutant filtering and more water replenishing the aquifer- ultimately reducing flood water and stormwater impacts. In summary, utilizing native plants and trees in your business or school landscaping allows for short and long term positive effects on stormwater runoff quantity and quality. Restoring your business, household, or school with native vegetation is one of the best things to do for the environment while also saving time and money.
The Audubon Society of North Carolina has recently expanded its native plant guide to help many cities have awareness of what they are planting. Birds, bees and butterflies are also getting a little help from Audubon North Carolina. The nonprofit conservation organization, which has offices in Corolla, Boone, Wilmington and Chapel Hill, announced Oct. 11, in time for fall planting, that its free, downloadable guide which helps identify the best plants for wildlife by habitat has been expanded from 400 to 692 native and cultivated plants that thrive in North Carolina. Everyone from home gardeners to educational institutions to landscapers to businesses are adding native-friendly plants to their backyards. The list is a single source of recommended bird- and pollinator-friendly plants that can be filtered by habitat, food source type, animals benefited, wetland status and more. Every species thrives in a different region and this resource helps planters choose a spot for the plant where it will thrive. The wetland status option is important for many city planners and stormwater managers who want to reduce flooding and stormwater impacts in their communities.
To find native plants in your area, Audubon North Carolina provides a terrific ZIP code locator at www.nc.audubon.org where people enter their ZIP code and get not only a list of recommended bird-friendly plants native to their area, but also their nearest Audubon chapter and a list of area businesses that sell native plants. By using the ZIP code locator, gardeners, city planners, landscapers, etc. can refine the list of plants suitable for their specific area.
CWEP encourages North Carolina residents to ask their favorite garden centers to carry more native plants so they’ll become more readily available to everyone. It is also recommended to assess and learn about what is already growing in your yard as this can serve as a starting point for your native journey! The updated Audubon North Carolina list will continue to serve as a helpful resource for communities to determine which plants are native and which are not.