Many cities are recognizing the need to return natural green spaces to their streetscapes, not only for visual appeal, but for environmental sustainability. Baltimore recognizes that native plants are needed to ensure biodiversity and balance within the local ecosystem with plans to establish “native plant communities.” This is especially important in Baltimore as it attempts to improve the health of the Inner Harbor and, ultimately, Chesapeake Bay, while continuing to grow and develop as major cities tend to do.
Many organizations exist in order to support native plants in the City of Baltimore, and they have been successful in engaging the community through social events and partnerships with local nurseries. I’m more familiar with programs like TreeBaltimore after attending some Baltimore Green Week events in 2013. TreeBaltimore provides free trees to residential and commercial property owners, and they will plant one in a public right-of-way as an option for city residents who don’t have large yards, or any yard at all.
Tree cover efforts are one example of how the city advocates for native species while promoting green planning. Baltimore was recognized by National Geographic as a city that loves trees, with an estimated tree cover of 27% compared to 20% and 36% in the nearby cities of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., respectively. What’s especially important about Baltimore’s tree programs, as well as the statewide program, is that they only promote native trees.
In addition to advocating for native plants, reducing the presence of non-native and invasive plant species is paramount. A Towson University team uses the accessibility of mobile apps to engage people in the fight to sustain native plant growth. Their mobile app allows people to identify and map the presence (and absence) of wavyleaf basketgrass when out and about. The invasive grass was noticed in Maryland in the late 90s and has quickly taken over wooded area formerly home to a variety of native plants.
The National Invasive Species Council notes that not all non-native plants are a threat to native plants. However, it’s always a good idea to make absolutely sure that the exotic plant you want is not a threat. During my recent hike around Baltimore, I saw bamboo growing next to a home near MICA. The Mother Nature Network provides five reasons why not to plant bamboo in your yard:
- Bamboo grows and spreads quickly;
- It is an invasive threat to biodiversity;
- “Bamboo is a long-term relationship” (it takes years to get rid of, and doesn’t respect boundaries);
- Eradication may require herbicides; and
- There are over 1,000 species of bamboo to get confused over.
Like bamboo, there are so many non-native plant species that may or may not be invasive, and may or may not be easy to differentiate between threatening or non-threatening to native plants. It may seem harmless to place some exotic plant in your backyard; it’s not growing legs, but its seeds can catch a ride on the wind or a mischievous squirrel. As the oldie-but-goodie opinion article “Going Green but Getting Nowhere” indicates, it takes unified, community action to really make a difference.
Does your city have efforts in place to identify the native plants from the non-native plants in your community?
Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.