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The Kootenay Native Plant Society celebrates the rich native flora of the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. We seek to foster an understanding and appreciation of our native plants and to preserve their diversity for future generations. KNPS was formed in 2012 to empower residents to learn about native plants and ways they can help with their conservation.
At KNPS, we are on a mission to save the native plants and natural habitats that make the West Kootenay unique.
Why Native Plants?
Native plants are the primary basis for life on earth. They provide a source of wonder and delight, along with ecosystem services that are necessary for our wellbeing. Plants turn sunlight into food, produce the oxygen we breathe, filter water, and build soil. Healthy plant communities protect us against floods, droughts and erosion.
Native plants also provide food and shelter to pollinators and other animals. Native plants and animals have co-evolved over millennia to adapt to local conditions. We cannot protect bees, hummingbirds, bears, wolves, hawks, or salmon without conserving the local plants that provide them sustenance and homes.
Native plants are tremendously important in buffering the effects of climate change. Plants remove greenhouse gases from the air and buffer rising temperatures through shade and water cycling. They may be reservoirs of genetic diversity that may help protect out food supply from pests and diseases in an era of climate change. They may also help us diversify our food supply if we protect them now.
In the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, many plants are endangered. Habitat loss, land conversion and mismanagement, and resource extraction continue to accelerate, destroying species and ecosystems.
The need for native plant conservation is more acute than ever. Unfortunately, in the Kootenays, as elsewhere, programs for plant conservation are substantially inferior to those for animals. Conservation priorities of government and non-governmental organizations are focused disproportionately on ‘fish and wildlife’, with plants often considered as background ‘habitat’ if they are considered at all.
What is a Native Plant?
Plants that naturally occur in a specific area and habitat over a long period of time are called native plants. They have adjusted to the environmental conditions and co-evolved with other species in the same system. Native plants are an integral part of a healthy natural and cultural ecosystem.
A plant that is native to the West Kootenay has a unique genetic makeup that reflects its adaptation to our local growing conditions, soil types, climate, elevation, and rainfall of our region. These locally-adapted ecotypes are also part of the natural biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
Why should we plant natives?
1. Conserve the unique diversity of our region.
By planting West Kootenay native plants, you can help preserve this unique diversity and prevent the loss of genetic variation that is essential for the survival of these species. You can also help protect the ecosystem services that these plants provide, such as water purification, soil stabilization, carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling3.
Moreover, you can help enhance the resilience of these plants to the threats posed by climate change, invasive species, and disease. West Kootenay native plants have evolved to cope with the natural disturbances and fluctuations of this region, such as fire, drought, frost, and pests. They are more likely to survive and thrive under changing conditions than non-native or cultivated plants.
2. Connect to local wild populations.
Planting West Kootenay native plants in your yard can also help create habitat and connectivity for the native wildlife that relies on them. Many animals, especially pollinators such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and flies, need a variety of native plants to feed on throughout the seasons. By providing them with nectar, pollen, seeds, fruits, and leaves, you can support their reproduction and survival.
In addition, you can help link your yard to the larger landscape of natural areas that host wild plant populations. This can facilitate the movement and gene flow of both plants and animals across the region. This is important for maintaining genetic diversity and adaptation among populations, as well as for allowing species to shift their ranges in response to climate change.
3. Keep wild plants wild.
Finally, planting West Kootenay native plants in your yard can help conserve the integrity and authenticity of the wild plant communities that exist in this region. Many of these communities are rare or endangered due to habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation, or invasion by non-native species. Some examples are the camas meadows (Camassia quamash), riparian corridors, and endangered shrublands and grasslands.
By choosing West Kootenay native plants over non-native or cultivated plants, you can avoid introducing or spreading potentially harmful species that may compete with or hybridize with the wild ones. You can also avoid altering or disrupting the natural processes and interactions that shape these communities. You can help keep wild plants wild by respecting their evolutionary history and ecological role.
By the way, you should never dig plants from the wild, even if they look beautiful and tempting. Digging up wild plants can hurt them and their environment in many ways. You may damage their roots, expose them to diseases or pests, or bring unwanted weeds or invaders to your yard. You may also harm the animals that depend on them for food and shelter. And you may reduce the chances of these plants surviving and reproducing in the wild, especially if they are rare or endangered. Besides, most wild plants don’t do well in gardens, as they are adapted to their natural habitats and conditions. They may die or become invasive in your yard. So, please leave the wild plants alone, and enjoy them where they belong.
Native plants give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.
Lady Bird Johnson