Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS single major
Other major (if applicable):
Minor(s) (if applicable): FREN
Native plants have long been a key component in the study of ecosystems. More recently, they have moved beyond just ecology to to occupy the realms of design and conservation as well. The ways in which native plants are valued affects how they are then used in each of these respective fields.
A clear and concise definition of “native species” is difficult to produce. There are many grey areas that complicate ideas of inherent nativeness. The best that can be done is to identify common traits of native species that, individually, do not constitute a definition. Essentially: native species’ presence in an area is not due to human interference, the evolution of the species took place within the specific geographic area, the area is within historical range of the species, they do not degrade the ecosystem or harm other native species, and the species is integrated within the ecological community with interdependent relationships with other species (Woods and Moriarty 2001).
Using the term “native” to categorize these species does create a problematic binary of native vs. invasive. As Larson (2007) points out, militarizing and villainizing non-native “invasive” species presents its own set of challenges. As it is likely impossible to manage or eradicate invasive species (Woods and Moriarty 2001). Certain non-native species may threaten ecosystems, but others may even be beneficial (Thomas and Palmer 2015).
While native plants have begun to be a more popular choice, in the urban and commercial landscape context, cultivated non-native plants and flowers are most commonly used. Through cultivation, these plants often have brighter colors, more blooms, and fuller foliage that may be desired for aesthetic purposes. Native plants commonly used for landscape design consist of grasses and wildflowers that can be visibly more subdued and potentially less vibrant than their cultivated counterparts. Plants used for decorative purposes are often valued solely for their aesthetic value. As ecological perspectives become more integrated into design there has been a struggle between aesthetic and scientific values (Hooper et al. 2008).
There are also many potential benefits in using and protecting native plant species. Native plant species have begun to be used in urban landscapes as a means of combating biodiversity loss in a developed setting (Garrard et al. 2018). They can also potentially conserve water, As plants that are native to a region have adapted to the climate and conditions over prolonged periods of time, they require less water in a landscaping setting than cultivated plants. This brings up the issue of climate change and what threats it may pose to the habitat of native species as well as to the complex definition of nativeness related to climate. Native plants can also help to preserve soil health where invasive species threaten soil microbes (Duchicela et al. 2012). Another aspect of native plants in relation to conservation is their potential for mitigating the effects of desertification. Desertification, specifically in arid and semi-arid rangelands represents a significant challenge to human welfare and food system security. The effects of climate change as well as land use practices are key drivers of this process (D’Odorico et al. 2013). Native plants used in conjunction with food crops could represent a promising degradation mitigation technique.
Overall, the study of native plants represents and intriguing interdisciplinary aspect of environmental thought. From the very language used to describe them to their aesthetic and scientific value, native plants can be can be investigated from a multitude of angles and perspectives.
- How are native plants used in urban landscape design?
- How can using native plants create habitat for other native species?
- Why are native plants used less frequently in commercial landscape design?
- How do the aesthetic values and cultural perceptions of nature shape how native plants are viewed?
- What are the benefits of using native plants over non-native in restoration projects?
- How can native plants implemented in mitigation of desertification in revegetation projects?
Hist 388 (What’s for Dinner?) Spring 2022. This class will provide a better understanding of food systems with the potential to connect agriculture with use of native plants vs. cultivated plants.
SOAN 306 (Social Permaculture) Spring 2022. With a focus on human interactions with ecological systems, this class provides an introduction to permaculture design.
Art 100 (Key monuments) Fall 2021: This art history class looks at the key components of design, beauty, and art as well as the potentials and limitations of different art mediums. This class will complement the design elements of my area of interest and help me think about how landscape design works as an art form.
SOAN 296 (Wines and Vines) Fall 2022: As this class explores the anthropological perspectives of wine production it looks at the “interplay of art, craft, and science” which is extremely relevant to the key ideas of my area of interest. It will provide an interesting comparison between native plants and the highly cultivated and maintained wine grapes.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: CHEM 110, GEOL 150, ECON 260, SOAN 265, HIST 261, PHIL 215. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Revisions to date
- March 2020:
- Include/mention desertification in summary as well as key questions.
- Look at how climate change may change definition of nativeness.
- More specific evaluative questions.
- D’Odorico, P., A. Bhattachan, K. F. Davis, S. Ravi, and C. W. Runyan. 2013. “Global Desertification: Drivers and Feedbacks.” Advances in Water Resources 51 326–44.
- Duchicela, Jessica, Keith M. Vogelsang, Peggy A. Schultz, Wittaya Kaonongbua, Elizabeth L. Middleton, and James D. Bever. 2012. “Non‐native Plants and Soil Microbes: Potential Contributors to the Consistent Reduction in Soil Aggregate Stability Caused by the Disturbance of North American Grasslands.” New Phytologist 196.1 : 212-22.
- Garrard, Georgia E., Nicholas S. G. Williams, Luis Mata, Jordan Thomas, and Sarah A. Bekessy. 2018. “Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design.” Conservation Letters 11.2 : N/a.
- Hooper, Virginia Harding, Joanna Endter-Wada, and Craig W. Johnson. 2008 “Theory and Practice Related to Native Plants: A Case Study of Utah Landscape Professionals.” Landscape Journal 27.1 : 127-41.
- Lankau, Richard A. 2012. “Coevolution between Invasive and Native Plants Driven by Chemical Competition and Soil Biota.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, no. 28 : 11240-11245.
- Larson, Brandon. 2007. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Invasive Species.” Invasive Plants: Inventories, Strategies and Action. Topics in Canadian Weed Science. 5: 131–56.
- Pierotti, Raymond John. 2010. Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology. Chapter 1: Defining Traditional Ecological Knowledge New York: Routledge,. Indigenous Peoples and Politics.
- Thomas, Chris D, and G. Palmer. 2015. “Non-native Plants Add to the British Flora without Negative Consequences for Native Diversity.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112, no. 14: 4387-4392.
- Unterweger, Philipp Andreas, Nicolas Schrode, and Oliver Betz. 2017. “Urban Nature: Perception and Acceptance of Alternative Green Space Management and the Change of Awareness after Provision of Environmental Information. A Chance for Biodiversity Protection.” Urban Science 1.3: 24.
- Woods, Mark, and Paul Veatch Moriarty. 2001. “Strangers in a Strange Land: The Problem of Exotic Species.” Environmental Values 10, no. 2 : 163-91.