What is a native plant?

It is a plant that has evolved and adapted naturally in a local ecosystem or location without direct or indirect human intervention.

  Image © Pam Pavela

Image © Pam Pavela

In other words, a native plant is one that occurs naturally in a particular place (i.e., wasn't brought there by people) and evolved there over time. Native plants are adapted to the climate, rainfall, soil, insect, animals, microbes and fungi of a particular place.

All plants are native to somewhere on Earth. Here in California, we have more than 2,100 species that are ours alone, and almost 7,000 species, subspecies, and varieties that occur here naturally. Applied to the Santa Ana River Watershed, a native plant is one that grows within the watershed from Big Bear to Huntington Beach. A few plants will grow happily in salty air, snow, and the hot inland areas of Riverside, but most plants are native to a limited set of conditions. Some plants may need an ocean breeze to thrive, while others will need hot, dry conditions and clay soil. However, not all native plants make good landscape plants. Using a little common sense, and the tools mentioned in this chapter, you will be able to select native plants for your garden that provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and other animals, and grow in balance with your time and resources.

What is a California native plant?

  Image © Pam Pavela

Image © Pam Pavela

California native plants are those that were found in California before the 1500’s, when Spanish explorers arrived and brought exotic plants into California. For example, from the fossil record we know that oaks (Quercus species) are native to California, having been in California for about 56 million years. This long residence means that oaks have not only adapted to California’s climate, soils, and rainfall, but have also formed relationships with the native insects and animals. A native plant, therefore, supports much more life in a landscape than a non-native plant, because the native plant shares an evolutionary history with the microbes, fungi, insects and animals of that place.


  Fiveneedle pricklyleaf ( Thymophylla pentachaeta ) - Image © Pam Pavela

Fiveneedle pricklyleaf (Thymophylla pentachaeta) - Image © Pam Pavela

On the home page, enter your zip code or even your address to yield the names of local native plant species for sun, part shade, low water, groundcovers, and other conditions or categories. Calscape