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Determining and Demonstrating the Value of Native Plants

By Rob Messervey, Vice-Chair Ontario Native Plant Growers Association

We all talk about the benefits of native plants, many of which are outlined in the Economy of Hope report. There is an intrinsic value we know and feel. Those inherent benefits are why so many of us are heavily involved in the business of promoting, profiling, growing, and planting native plants. If we are going to be able to influence and impact federal, provincial, and municipal and conservation authority policy and strategies, and if we are to successfully seek sustainable funding and develop an investment strategy to carry us forward with certainty in terms of our ability to scale up and meet demand, we must do a better job of demonstrating the value of native plants in all facets and sectors of society: the environment, the economy, agriculture, business interests, mental and physical health imperatives, recreation, and cultural elements. 

We need to build on some of the studies to date on the values of native plants from ecological goods and services they provide, both environmental and economic. These values are huge. Let’s invest in this area of science and research. The results when profiled will be very impactful on policy makers, including at the political level, and potential investors. Our research needs to continue to examine the imperative and value of native plants in supporting pollination for growing our food. One in three bites of our local food is a result of pollination.  

Our research also needs to examine the integral relationship between native plants and our soil health and productivity. Native plants, unlike non-natives, have a unique role and responsibility in creating and maintaining the biological and physical health of our soils. Native plants have a synergistic relationship with the microorganisms in the soil (fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa), and healthy plants and a healthy soil food web are the result. Again, this is a huge, understated value of native plants that we must take account of in profiling their importance in landscape plantings and ecological restoration and in the local economy. We can and should also approach our research from the perspective of the COST of the loss of various threatened or vulnerable native plants from the landscape, i.e., the resultant loss of wildlife who rely on specific plants as host plants and food and habitat, social impacts of special species, loss of pollinators critical to food production, and invasion of their habitats by invasives.

Collectively, we need to encourage and facilitate investment in a range of research topics that address the value of ecological goods and services of native plants, their value in supporting sectors like agriculture, business, recreation, and, of course, the environment, and the real costs incurred by their losses. 

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