130+ Native Plant & Biodiversity Questions Answered


The AskScience subreddit hosted a special native plants session with key members of the HNP team. Over 130 questions were answered, and below are some of the top-voted answers. Dig deeper and view the post with all questions here.

I'm from a prairie state, and there's a lot of back-and-forth in restoration circles on "local ecotype" seed.

Some insist on getting seed from the closest possible remnant population, others insist on bringing in seed from 100+ miles away to diversify the gene pool as many populations are so shrunken and isolated. I know ecology doesn't work in absolutes, but I'd love to hear you folks' opinion on the matter.

A: As long as the seed you are bringing in is from the same latitude and altitude of your ecoregion, that is, it has sound provenance, then I support genotypic diversity.

Q: fishtailerparker
Are you aware of any examples of legislation that prohibits traditional lawns or excessive lawns? Being in this movement the thing that absolutely kills me is going through rural or farther suburban areas and seeing big houses put up where they proceed to each have 5 acre clear cut lawns with sod put in. Makes everything else we're all doing feel hopeless sometimes and I would like to try to find a way to prevent it.

A: As far as I'm aware, no such policies exist outside of what we've seen in a few western states like California and Nevada, and in those instances, it hasn't necessarily banned lawns directly (at least for private individuals). Instead it sort of incentivizes people to change behavior. Here are a few examples...

Nevada-Replacing useless grass (AB356)-A law enacted by the Nevada Legislature in 2021 will prohibit the use of Colorado River water delivered by Water Authority member agencies to irrigate nonfunctional grass beginning in 2027. The AB356 law applies to Southern Nevada commercial, multi-family, government, and other properties. It does not apply to grass in single-family residences, such as grass in front and back yards.

Nevada - The Nevada State Legislature passed a bill that bans all "nonfunctional turf" in southern Nevada by the end of 2026 in streetscapes, medians, parking lots, traffic circles and other areas where it is utilized for aesthetics and not recreational purposes. The ban is also retroactive. It requires removal of nonfunctional turf in such areas by the end of 2026.

California - Legislation bans the use of potable water - water that is safe to drink - to irrigate ornamental lawns or grasses at businesses, institutions, industrial facilities and certain developments. The grass could only be irrigated with recycled water.

Nevada - Las Vegas pays people upwards of $3/sqft to remove turf lawn.

Utah - Some areas pay upwards of a $1.5/sqft to remove turf lawn.

Candidly, though, HNP is not heavily involved in policy at this point, so we haven't tracked it a ton. What I know is more just what I've seen from browsing and trying to keep tabs on the situation. I feel your hurt, though. I just went on my run, and where I live, everyone has sprawling 2-5 acre turf lawns, 7 of which were being fertilized/sprayed as I ran. It's just a shame. It's wasteful and harmful to humans and biodiversity.

Q: TeaBooksFall
I have been switching non-native to native plants in my yard for a couple years now (in New England). The one aggressive non-native which I don't much bother fighting is the ubiquitous dandelion. Do you consider dandelions invasive or harmful to native ecosystems like ours in the northeast?.

A: Dandelions are invasive but I don't consider them a problem. They do help a few generalist pollinators early in the season and their foliage supports some generalist caterpillars. I wouldn't worry about them.


In addition to Doug's thoughts, when you plant a prairie or something like that, Dandelions get pushed out really fast. They cannot compete against native wildflowers, grasses, etc. I have never seen a dandelion in the middle of a prairie!

Q: ndander3
I've seen various native plant activists have very different ideas of what they call "native." Some would say that if it's native range wasn't in your county now, it's not native while others try to claim Native if it's in a very large geographic area like "West Coast." How important are these distinctions for the purpose creating habitat?

A: These distinctions are more important from the perspective of plant provenance than from a habitat perspective. You want to source your plants from the same ecoregion and latitude when possible because such plants are better adapted to your particular environment.


Native ranges are often based on specimen collection data. This means that it can be difficult, based on the availability and quality of the data, to determine an exact native range. We can construct models with the available data to get a better understanding of the likely native range as well, but again this is imperfect. When determining if a plant is native to a specific locality, I like to refer to resources like BONAP. These databases have range maps for species in North America. It is important to try and select species that are native to your locality if you are trying to support the most native biodiversity. That being said, if you look at a range map for a species you are interested in and it shows it is native to the counties surrounding you but not your county, it is typically still a great choice.

Q: leaping_lamazz
What's your favorite native plant personally, whether aesthetically or functionally?

A: My favorite woody plant is the white oak. My favorite herbaceous plant is any one of our goldenrods.

Q: benjamin-tennant
My question is whether or not it is better for my little habitat to have a lot of the same plant species, or just a few of many different species of plants.

A: Good question. I would suggest a compromise between the two. Diversity is good. The greater your plant diversity, the more specialist bees you will service. But you also want to make foraging efficient for your bees. if you have several plants of the same species close to each other, a bee won't have to fly very far to get to the next source of nectar and honey.

Q: EntrepreneurPlane519
Which state has model legislation for prohibiting the sale of regionally invasive plant species?

A: Delaware prohibits the sale of all invasives. Other states prohibit certain invasives. These include Mass, PA, MD and South Carolina.

Q: slowlybecomingmoss
I feel like the battle against invasive plants is rather daunting; what is your best advice with regard to dealing with them?

A: This question hits very close to home.

Develop a system that works for you and is specific to the species you're addressing. E.g., I've removed honeysuckle by poppers, sawzalls, chainsaws, straight pulling it up, etc. But now I have my preferred method and sequence of how I like to cut it down and remove it. That system is the fastest I can do it at this point.

That said, invest in good equipment if you do it often or have a large area. I'm at the point now where I have a chainsaw that I maintain very well, sawzalls with extra battery packs, chainsaw pants, chainsaw helmet, etc. I've invested in good gear, and it's absolutely worth it if you do this often.

Third, don't fret about what remains. Focus only on the next area. I often spot a big tree in the forest or a spicebush thicket and work towards it. It's always extremely gratifying when I get there and clear around it, unveiling a 150-year-old red oak! Breaking it down like this keeps it manageable and exciting as I clear new areas and helps me not worry about how much remains.

Lastly, involve yourself in FB groups or communities of people who share your passion and are knowledgeable. You will greatly benefit from their knowledge, but it's just really nice to know the fight isn't a solo one. Trust me, there are scores of us out there doing this constantly.

I'll end by saying, invasive removal matters. The areas I've cleared look amazing but I can also see so much more density in natives coming through now. It's very important to stay positive in the journey!

Q: _johnny_appleseed_
I am in year 3 of reclaiming 10 acres of fallow farmland. I am doing the best I can, but buying only native + local seeds is just not sustainable for this size on my budget. I have been adding in other non-native "wildflower" or "pollinator" mixes to increase my coverage.
I really just want to know, am I doing more damage than good?

A: I'd say you'd only be doing more harm than good if the species you're adding in are invasive. For example, (depending on where you live) Shasta Daisy or, in the case of a grass, Smooth Brome, etc. Wildflowers, even non-native ones, can offer pollen to adult pollinators and can provide ground cover/habitat. Where they really lack, however, is that most native insects cannot use them as larval hosts, as over 90% of insects are specialists and have co-evolved with certain plants.

I understand the cost issue with the route you're going. I can only recommend two things to lessen that load. 1) Worry less about the seeds being local. Or 2) Learn to harvest seeds yourself. I have just 30K sqft of wildflowers, a fraction of 10 acres! However, in just two years of growing I can already harvest more than enough seeds of various species, e.g., Black-eyed susan, partridge pea, flat-topped Goldenrod, New England Aster, Joe-pye Weed, Blanket Flower, Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Sneezeweed, Hoary Vervain, etc. These species came up very readily from seed and already produce far more seeds than I could ever need. So now I collect them and give them away. Learning how to harvest seeds is really easy and a very rewarding experience.

One last way to do this is to befriend folks in the 'space'. In my community, I'm friends with native landscapers, native plant sellers, and people who work in the parks systems. I cannot even begin to tell you how generous they've been in sharing plants and seeds with me. It's a very cool community. So make sure you're building a network!

Q: lefence
What approaches have you found most effective for getting more people involved in native plant gardening and local conservation efforts?

A: Explaining why the switch to natives is necessary. We have a biodiversity crisis. Our parks and preserves are too small and too isolated, so we need to practice conservation outside of parks on the land between. That is where we live, work, and play. Native plants in our home landscapes sustain native animals far better than non-natives. There are 135 million acres of residential landscapes in the US that are dominated by non-native ornamentals, 44 million acres of lawn. We can do better.

Q: Funny-District-8521
Is there a difference between a cultivar and a nativar? I have some of each mixed in with my straight native wild types. Will that cause harm?

A: No difference. A cultivar is a genetic variant of a species. A nativar is a genetic variant of a native species. Nativar is a term the public made up. It is not an accepted scientific term.

Team Members Answering Questions
HNP Co-Founder, Dr. Doug Tallamy; Executive Director, Brandon Hough; and Innovation Project Manager, Krista De Cooke.

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