That’s the question asked by a team at the University of Georgia in their review article “State of the science and challenges of breeding landscape plants with ecological function,” published in Horticulture Research, an online open journal.
Citing Doug Tallamy’s statistic that there are more than 13.2 million acres of aesthecially managed lands in the US, the group asks if it’s possible to increase native plant landscaping within that footprint to support greater wildlife biodiversity?
The answers they share are based on a mash-up of multiple surveys. Reasons why natives are just 13% of nursery industry sales are due to three main factors: 1) Supply/availability, 2) consumer preference and 3) knowledge of natives.
Price doesn’t seem to play into it, as one study has shown that consumers in Michigan would be willing to pay more for well-designed landscapes with native plants. Another study shows that consumers are willing to pay a premium for plants labeled native or non-invasive.
However, the nursery and greenhouse industry makes its living selling pretty plants to people who want to express their values and status through exterior and interior plant purchases.
The truth is, we don’t know whether or not horticultural selections of native plants will provide the same benefit as straight species. Add to that another question: How much diversity within the native species is required to meet ecological services needs across a region? Also unknown.
A very vocal segment of the native plant and consumer environmentalist crowd is promoting the goal of replacing half our nation’s lawns with native plants. That would be a boon to nurseries with the right plants…that is, if more consumers wanted them and they purchased them consistently. At least one study in Australia showed that bird diversity rose sharply when native trees comprised 30% of the streetscape.
So, it seems simple, plant the right plants in the right places and they (biodiversity) will come. Not so fast. Going from where the industry is now to covering 25% of the managed landscape with native species is a large jump.
Skeptics in the plant world say they’ve heard this talk before.
But here’s what’s different this time: 9+ billion people by 2050 and a world where 80% of them live in urban spaces. A rapidly increasing group of scientists, non-profits, policy makers, politicians, businesses and citizens believe that ecological functionality of managed landscapes is the future and is one of the best, most cost-effective ways to increase resiliency of urban spaces. This army is marching forward, gathering legions of young people as they go. Policies, laws and regulations are being put in place at the local and regional level to allow native plants and some “adapted” species and outright ban others.
Functioning plants in functioning landscapes is an emerging discipline that is creating new markets. Shortages of native plants plague landscape architects and landscape contractors in urban areas all over the country. As cities adopt green infrastructure plans, the decisions about what is planted in landscapes that provide functionality will be determined by regulation.
What do you think about incorporating landscape functionality into plant breeding? The entire article can be accessed here:
“State of the science and challenges of breeding landscape plants with ecological function,” H Dayton Wilde, Horticulture Department; Kamal J K Gandhi, Daniel B Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources; and Gregory Colson, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, all at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. Horticulture Research 2, Article number: 14069 (2015) doi:10.1038/hortres.2014.69 http://www.nature.com/articles/hortres201469