Titus to speak on the benefits of gardening with native plants



Though many people have heard about the local food movement, the local plant movement remains a little more obscure. Fredonia Professor Jonathan Titus might be about to change that.

Titus will kick-start the Bird, Tree & Garden Club’s Brown Bag lecture series at 12:15 p.m. today in Smith Wilkes Hall with his talk, “Invasive Plants, The Problems They Cause, and Practical Native Alternatives for Landscaping.”

He will address the ecological benefits of gardening with native species, which are indigenous to the region in which they grow, rather than non-native species, which were brought here either accidentally or on purpose. Native plants provide resources, habitats, shelter and food for local wildlife, he said, which is why gardening with them can benefit one’s local environment.

Titus will focus his talk on a particular subset of non-native species called invasive species, which make up less than 1 percent of all non-native species but pose serious ecological threats because they spread and outcompete native ones.

“If you go to lots of forests and natural areas around here, you’ll see that invasive species have taken over these areas,” he said.

Their presence can impact tree germination, the establishment of future forests and local wildlife, which often cannot eat the non-native species. Titus said non-native species tend to thrive because they have no natural predators in the area.

Invasive and non-native species are also a component of global change, which refers to the ways in which the globe is changing due to anthropogenic causes like carbon emissions, ocean acidification and the preponderance of plastic in the world’s oceans. Titus said invasive species introduced to new areas by humans alter the world’s natural environments by leading to the homogenization of flora.

“Lawns in the U.S. are a lot more like European lawns now, because all of our lawns have European plants, and Europe has become more like us because of that process,” he said. “As non-natives spread, the more interesting and unique species gradually disappear.”

Titus also cited invasive and non-native species as the second most important factor (after habitat destruction) causing the sixth mass extinction that the planet is now entering. Though most of that extinction is caused specifically by invasive species, Titus said he believes that gardening with native plants is always better than with non-native plants, even if they are not invasive. 

For example, many flowers commonly used in gardens, such as pansies and petunias, are not from the region where they are grown. Those plants do not explicitly harm the ecosystem, but Titus said he prefers to only plant native plants in his garden because they provide him with more unique wildlife and insects in his garden.

One particular plant Titus said he likes to garden with is spicebush, which is native to the Fredonia area, and as a result spicebush swallowtail butterflies that only eat spicebush flock to his garden.

“Lots of insects are very specific in what they’ll eat,” he said. “The most famous example is the monarch butterfly, which only eats milkweed, but there are thousands of other examples.”

In addition to discussing the benefits native species provide for ecosystems at his Brown Bag, Titus will talk about how native plants help preserve the distinctiveness of a particular region.

“A lot of people today don’t have a connection to where they live, which is too bad, because it’s really exciting to get to know what’s unique and interesting about where one lives,” he said. “I think that adds a lot of texture and meaning to someone’s life.”