Does soil matter to native plants?


 Does soil matter to native plants?


Jonathan Foster, Community Education Assistant

As explained in our UMaine resource, Soil and Plant Nutrition: A Gardener’s Perspective, soil is a critical resource for all plant life, providing plants with anchorage, water, and critical minerals and nutrients, among other things. So, in that sense, soil is just as vital to native plants as to all others. Of course, individual plants do have individual needs from the soil they are planted in, most notably the texture (e.g., light and well-drained, compacted, etc.) and the pH (e.g., acidic to alkaline… controls which micronutrients are available to the plant), and native soil often matches up nicely (and effortlessly) with the needs of native plants. But soil composition and chemistry can support both native and non-native plants, as long as those same features/needs overlap. There aren’t any “secret ingredients” to a region’s soil that that region’s native plants require or have access to.

When horticulturists and environmentalists stress the importance of native plants, we are more often discussing the relationships between the plants and 1) other plants around them, and 2) animal species (most importantly, insects). Native plants support the plant and animal communities that they have co-evolved with, all of which are particular to our region. Countless studies have demonstrated that far more native insect, bird, and small mammals species are provided with food, pollination opportunities, and shelter by native plants than by those introduced from other areas. And native plants contribute to a vital, somewhat less tangible resource for Maine–the particular appearance of our lovely region.