The justifications for the use of native plants in landscapes usually center on environmental reasons. The reasons run the gamut from water conservation to supporting local fauna. Rarely are aesthetic reasons given. Perhaps that circumstance is the result of the subjective nature of aesthetics. However, there are aesthetic reasons for choosing native plant landscapes that are fairly objective. The following are a few:
1) Uniqueness: In this day and age of global trade, transit, and commercialization, landscapes have become generic. Plant nurseries and the plant sections of home improvement stores are not organized by the region of origin of the plants they sell. In fact, the plant labels rarely mention the native region of the plant. As a result, we have generic urban landscapes, that consist of a hodge podge of off-the-shelf favorites. Accross the country, landscapes in urbanized areas look much alike, with the only difference being that fewer tropicals are used in Northern climes. This is particularly true in the Southwestern U.S., which is populated by Eastern and European transplants who brought with them their bias for lush lawns and landscapes, and lack appreciation for native chaparral or desert flora. In contrast to landscapes of exotic plants, native plants create unique landscapes: First, such landscapes are regionally unique because they are different than other parts of the country and world. Second, such landscapes are unique in a neighborhood because, at present, native landscapes are so rare. Uniqueness enhances beauty.
2) Authenticity: Natives make an urbanized area appear to have continuity and context in the natural landscape. As a result, native landscapes look less contrived. When one travels to foreign destinations, the native flora is part of the tourism experience. Travelers don’t want to see the same plants they see at home anymore than they want to see the same architectural styles or clothing styles. The same is true of home. Natives give home neighborhoods authenticity, which is attractive.
3) Subtlety and refinement: Native plant species are part of a symbiotic eco-system. They complement each other in subtle ways. In contrast, exotic species of plants are typically chosen based on their individual, rather than contextual beauty. Exotic plant species generally require a lot of weeding, pruning, and the maintenance of a more structured, organized, or segregated landscape. Natives present a natural and less-structured landscape. This more natural and contextual look invariably appears more refined and sophisticated. Knowledgeable people will instantly recognize a native landscape and the unschooled will suspect something on a higher plane is at hand. Additionally, the decreased maintenance requirements of native plants (because they are adapted to the existing environment), results in fewer unkempt, weed grown, or neglected looking landscapes.
4) Historical context: In older urbanized areas, especially those with historical resources, natives enhance the historic character of the area. When historical neighborhoods were new, the use of native plants in landscapes, especially trees, was more common. Thus, native plants help to make an historic neighborhood look more like it did when it was built., i.e., more historic.
All photos by author