What Is a Native Plant?

Various government agencies and other groups have developed similar, but not identical definitions of the native plant.  The differences in wording and intent stem from local political, cultural, or economic considerations so as to intentionally designate specific plants or their growing site as native, or not.  More or less, the fundamental working condition is that for a plant growing in North America to be considered native, it should not have been introduced by immigrants from other parts of the world, intentionally or not.

Here are some other working definitions:

Federal Executive Order 11987:  “ ‘Native species’ means all species of plants and animals naturally occurring, either presently or historically, in any ecosystem of the United States.”

National Park Service (6):  “Native species are defined as all species that have occurred or now occur as a result of natural processes on lands designated as units of the national park system. Native species in a place are evolving in concert with each other.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (11): “Native. With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.”

Plant Conservation Alliance: A native plant is “…one that occurs naturally in a particular habitat, ecosystem, or region of the United States and its territories or possessions, without direct or indirect human actions.”

Kansas Native Plant Society:  “The issue of whether something is native or not has two components: geography and time. As usually defined by the botanical community, native plants (indigenous plants) are those that originated in a given geographic area without human involvement or that arrived there without intentional or unintentional intervention of humans from an area in which they originally originated.  By contrast, non-native plants (also called alien, exotic, or non-indigenous plants) owe their presence in a given geographic area to intentional or unintentional human involvement.”

Florida Native Plant Society: “For most purposes, the phrase “Florida native plant” refers to those species occurring within the state boundaries prior to European contact, according to the best available scientific and historical documentation. More specifically, it includes those species understood as indigenous, occurring in natural associations in habitats that existed prior to significant human impacts and alterations of the landscape.”