What is a native plant?

Our native plants grew here prior to European contact. California’s native plants evolved here over a very long period, and are the plants which the first Californians knew and depended on for their livelihood. These plants have co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes, to form a complex network of relationships. They are the foundation of our native ecosystems, or natural communities.

Natural Plants

Natural Plants

How do we know which plants are native?
Specimens, seeds and drawings of new world plants were taken to Europe by early explorers over many years. Thus, American plants were included in ongoing botanical studies of the world’s flora. Also, the science of paleography allows scientists to compare fossil records with modern plants to understand which plants are native to an area.

Are native plants important?

Plants are a cornerstone of biological diversity. Native plants do the best job of providing food and shelter for native wild animals. Native plants are used in the development of new foods, medicines and industrial products. Commercial strawberries were developed using our coast strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, and pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, yielded Taxol, an anti-cancer drug. Native plants are also an essential element in the natural beauty for which California is famous.


Non-native plants such as forget-me-nots and English daisies are widespread, yet fairly harmless. But others take over natural areas and smother native plants. They can do this because the natural pests, foraging animals, diseases or weather conditions which kept the plants in check in their homeland are absent here. These weeds deprive our wild animals of food and shelter. Many weeds belong to the grass, pea and daisy families, with jubata and pampas grass, broom, and Cape ivy as well known problems.

Benefits of Native Plants

Native vegetation evolved to live with the local climate, soil types, and animals. This long process brings us several gardening advantages.

  • Save Water:
    Once established, many native plants need minimal irrigation beyond normal rainfall.
  • Low Maintenance:
    Low maintenance landscaping methods are a natural fit with native plants that are already adapted to the local environment. Look forward to using less water, little to no fertilizer, little to no pesticides, less pruning, and less of your time.
  • Pesticide Freedom:
    Native plants have developed their own defenses against many pests and diseases. Since most pesticides kill indiscriminately, beneficial insects become secondary targets in the fight against pests. Reducing or eliminating pesticide use lets natural pest control take over and keeps garden toxins out of our creeks and watersheds.
  • Wildlife Viewing:
    Native plants, birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and interesting critters are “made for each other.” Research shows that native wildlife prefers native plants.
  • Support Local Ecology:
    As development replaces natural habitats, planting gardens, parks, and roadsides with California natives can provide a “bridge” to nearby remaining wildlands.

Beautiful natural landscapes in California, including the scenic National Parks here, display authentic California flora. Your garden can too.