A Question of Perspective: Native vs. Exotic

A Question of Perspective: Native vs. Exotic

This could be a tense question for all those opinionated gardeners out there but which should you pick, native or exotic plants? There are definitely advantages to choosing native plants with tolerance to the climate being first and foremost. Natives are better for the indigenous wildlife as it provides the food and sustenance they are used to eating.

Exotic plants are those that are not native. OK that’s not an extensive definition, but if it was introduced from another region, country, or planet, it’s not native! The advantage of an exotic plant lies in its uniqueness. Exotic plants can create an aesthetic diversity in the garden and may still provide for the needs of the local wildlife. Let me be very clear, I’m not talking about invasive plants which can take over a countryside in a matter of minutes (i.e. kudzu).

My opinion:
If you want my opinion (and if you’re reading this you must!) a healthy combination of both native and exotic plants is good for the garden. By using natives you can create a more drought tolerant and climate resistant garden. But I wouldn’t want to be without the exotics for their unique appearances and properties.

What do you think? Should you go all native? All exotic? Or am I right and you should use a combination of both? What’s your perspective?


Dave has written GrowingTheHomeGarden.com since 2007. He gardens on an acre and a half where he raises his 5 children. He enjoys growing vegetables, herbs, and propagating plants. Dave works as a real estate agent in Spring Hill, TN.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. I agree that a mix of natives and exotics create a nice garden without needing tons of water. I have, however, become a victim of an invasive exotic that tried to take over.

  2. I go for the native as it is more economical & there would be less care to be given. Of course I think some exotics would be permitted if a person is willing to put more effort into gardening. I fully believe gardening should be a joy to the gardener not a chore. I love to garden & I love to get dirty. The dirtier the happier I am. Call me crazy.

  3. I have to agree with you Dave. A mixture of both is nice. I try to add more natives to my garden each year. But you can’t beat the exotics are their unique flowers or sometimes their strong resistance to diseases.

  4. Hi – I recently did a post along similar lines about natives plants here in the UK. I think you are right about a mix of native and exotic, after all thats why we garden

  5. I agree, this can be a hot button question, but not for me. I am okay with either but you must know the tendencies and traits of whatever you plant. Exotics that take over are a no no. Some like: mimosas, honeysuckle, kudzu, Pawlonias, and privet come to mind. But things like Japanese maples; which are native to Japan and Korea could be considered exotics. Who would ever garden without these lovely trees? Which cause no problems at all? So either are fine, just be smart with what you plant; which is not always an easy thing as we all know.

  6. Your question came to mind as I was walking on the Greenway this morning. There were beautiful natives but far too many exotics. I would guess that there were 10 exotics to every native! Bush honeysuckles, invasive weed trees, the terrible vincas (severe threat list) and several Euonymous cultivars that are on our severe threat list. Unfortunately, many still sold in most nurseries and big box stores.

    My issue isn’t that I need to only plant natives, but that I can to the best of my ability, make sure the non-natives I plant aren’t prone to escaping the garden and pond (one day to have) for the nearby woods and water ways!

    In the spirit of complete disclosure, I sure do miss the Verbascum thapsis that was removed earlier this summer;-)


  7. I like the mix, too. I’m trying to include more and more natives, but some of my favorite plants are exotics (like Pieris Japonica and most of my azaleas)that I’m never giving up!

  8. I agree. I think a mix of both exotic and native plants really enhances the garden. Plus, it’s always fun to try to keep something exotic alive and thriving.

  9. My next go ’round, I’ll definitely try to incorporate as many native plants as possible. However there are lots of non-native plants that can benefit wild life as well. One very important example of this is the Salvias – which can be of great use to hummingbirds and other nectar lovers. I don’t think any of the 25+ Salvia species I have are native to this country let alone to my area of the country (I live abroad at the moment). Yet my garden is always alive with Sunbirds (the Old World “equivalent” of a hummingbird) and various warblers enjoying the Salvias. The bees also couldn’t care less about where the Salvias come from. And with the world wide bee crisis, anything that makes the bees happy, makes me happy!

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