University of Maryland Extension

What Is a Native Plant?

It is a common misconception that species are native to politically-defined regions. A plant species is actually native to the ecoregion where it has evolved in concert with soils, climate, fauna and other members of the plant community. This process of adaptation and evolution is ongoing and helps to perpetuate species even as conditions change. Even within its home ecoregion, a species is native to specific sets of conditions. Salt marsh grasses, for example, are native to saline water and periodic inundation. 

Maryland Level II Ecoregions

Shopping for Native Plants

If you are shopping for native plant products, buy from local nurseries and ask for plants descended from wild populations in your ecoregion. These plants present no environmental risk and provide maximal ecological gain. Also, let the nursery staff person know about the environmental conditions in your landscape bed, so they can help you select a native plant that will perform well for you.

Scientific Definition of Native Plants

This science-based definition of native plant will be helpful to you in discussions about native plant species and their ecological role:

  1. Occur naturally
  2. In their ecoregion and habitat where
  3. Over the course of evolutionary time
  4. They have adapted to physical conditions and co-evolved with the other species in the system
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