A Guide for Plants and Your Home: Understanding Native and Invasive Species
What is considered a native or indigenous plant?
Native, or indigenous plants, are plants that have evolved over thousands of years in a particular region. They have adapted to the geography, hydrology, and climate of that region. They occur in communities, meaning they have evolved together with other plants. As a result, a community of native plants provides habitat for a variety of native wildlife species.
Why should I use native plants?
Native plants provide a beautiful, hardy, drought resistant, low maintenance landscape while benefiting the environment. Once established, they save time and money by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water, and maintenance.
What is an invasive plant?
An invasive plant is a term for a plant species that has been introduced into a local area from other parts of the country or another continent, and has become an environmental weed pest. Characteristics of harmful invasive plant species include:
- The ability of the species to reproduce in large quantities
- Tolerance of many different soil and weather conditions
- Aggressive growth habit and the ability to spread rampantly
- There are no natural enemies such as insects or disease to control their populations
The Big Picture: Why is this important? How do invasive plants affect us?
Invasive plants pose a long-term threat to biodiversity, ecosystem stability, and the balance of nature on which all species depend. They spread into natural areas where they crowd out native plants and the wildlife that depend on them. These weeds disrupt ecosystem patterns and processes, such as hydrology, natural plant succession, and soil erosion.
Invasive plants are difficult to control and can be a real nuisance in landscaped areas. Japanese Bamboo, for example, spreads aggressively both by seed and vegetatively and is extremely difficult to manage.
Invasive species can interfere with the enjoyment of public and private conservation lands. Their tall growth habitat and ability to decrease the diversity of wild areas by creating a monoculture (solid stands where nothing else can grow), can greatly diminish scenic views and vistas. Phragmites is just one example, commonly seen impeding the view of freshwater wetlands and salt marshes.
Harmful invasive plants have the potential to adversely alter the ecological balance of the Cape’s sensitive and globally unique coastal plain ponds. Freshwater ponds are threatened by the invasion of exotic pondweeds. One such weed, hydrilla, has the potential to completely choke ponds, making it impossible for people to swim and fish. Therefore, invasive species have a negative impact, both on aesthetics and recreational activities.
Further introduction of invasive plants and a failure to manage invasive plant populations will result in the reduction of biological diversity. In addition, it will have adverse impacts on ponds and marshes by altering significant ecosystems and habitats. Ultimately, invasive plants pose a threat to fisheries, outdoor recreation, tourism, and the character of the Cape. For a list of invasive plant species for Massachusetts and Cape Cod, click here.
What can you do about this problem?
- Seek information on invasive plants from botanical gardens, horticulturists, conservationists and government agencies.
- Remove invasive plants from your property. If they can’t be removed, inquire about ways to control them, (but remember! any proposed work within a wetland or within 100 feet of a wetland requires prior authorization from the local Conservation Commission).
- Don’t over-fertilize – this encourages weeds.
- Don't plant potentially invasive species.
- Support public policies and programs to control invasive plants.
- Ask for NATIVE plant species when buying plants and learn the Latin names so you won't be fooled by an exotic imposter or hybrid.
- Be sure your kayak, canoe, paddles and fishing boat are clear of any vegetation that may have been picked up elsewhere
- Seek native species which offer more to wildlife, the local ecology and you! A great resource is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Guide - "Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants"
For more information on this topic contact the Conservation Office:
Town of Chatham Conservation Office
261 George Ryder Road
Chatham, MA 02633
For additional information on the internet look to the following websites and/or organizations:
- Grow Native Massachusetts
- Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program
- Project Native
- New England Botanical Club
- Massachusetts Native Plants Committee
Websites regarding Invasive Species
- Invasive Plant Atlas of New England
- Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association
- National Invasive Species Information Center
- New England Wildflower Society
- Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel
- The Nation’s Invasive Species Information
- Center for Invasive Plant Management
- Invasive Species