Beyond Valorizing & Villainizing
The term “native plant” has become a common one, and many people probably assume that the definition is clear cut. However, like many other seemingly simple designations, that’s not the case.
Whether a given plant is considered “native” where it is found growing is dependent on the interpretation of the interrelation of three factors: time, place and human involvement.
So, in the United States, a plant is generally considered native only if it grew here before European colonization. On the East Coast, that’s the 1500s and in California, that’s 1769. Plants introduced since then, whether deliberately or by accident, are labeled “non-native,” “introduced,” “exotic,” or in some cases, “invasive.”
Historically, plant ranges have always been in flux, often in response to climatic shifts. Fossils and phylogenetics are two things that can show us where plants used to live and where they came from. Such information, though, raises questions even as it illuminates.