In a December post on the r/NativePlantGardening subreddit, a user inquired: “With climate change shifting zones, do we need to adjust our definition of ‘Native’ plants for our ecoregions? What if some plants once adapted to our regions no longer thrive in new temperatures and weather patterns. For example, we’re seeing butterfly species that never made it this far north before as our winters get milder.”
It’s an intriguing question, because native plant gardens have become a mainstay for many homeowners who want to simultaneously help the environment and save money. Native plant gardens, which consist of plants that have evolved with a particular region over the course of thousands of years, have a number of perks.
Native plants are typically durable species that can survive in a particular setting with less water and fertilizer than non-native plants, allowing gardeners to save money on those supplies. They also attract pollinators and wildlife that use them as a means for food. And they can provide shelter to animals native to a region, thus increasing biodiversity in the local ecosystem. For more information about native plant gardening, visit TCD’s rewilding guide.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released an updated Plant Hardiness Zone Map earlier in 2023 to help people understand what might work best in their areas, though things are constantly changing.
So, what might happen as the climate shifts the temperatures of local ecosystems? Will some native plants die while non-native plants thrive? Users speculated in the comment section.
One suggested: “Plant to your general region. 50 miles, 100, 150 miles. That’s almost irrelevant. We’re talking a range that a buffalo herd or a bird migration could cover in a day or two. That’s a reasonable range of dispersal. The cards are not yet on the table, so I’d rather stack the deck.
“I’ve got a lot of colleagues and friends in the botany and horticulture scene of Colorado. A lot of the old timers in the trade talk about how many New Mexico species they never thought they’d be able to grow here that do just fine now.”
“I’ve planted natives with a 100 mile radius to me. Living in the city makes unique microclimates. Where some things that aren’t technically native thrive. Maybe if we have climate fallout, a few of those species will be ready,” another user said.
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