Plant Guide: Native Plant Communities
About Native Plant Communities
Ecologists use the term "communities" to describe plant species that occur together in a particular environment.
Each environment, or habitat, has different conditions of soil, moisture, shade, and climate. This means that specific environmental conditions encourage and promote the growth of specific plant species. These communities of plant species are fairly consistent; wherever conditions are similar, the species that occur there will also be similar.
Welby Smith talks about the benefits of native plants.
Ecologists have given these communities familiar names such as "marsh" - which describes a community on wet mineral soil with high nutrients.
A "bog" is a community on wet peat soil with low nutrients.
A "prairie" community is found on dry soil and is dominated by grasses.
A native plant community usually has dozens or even hundreds of different plant species, and an equally large number of animal species, including butterflies, birds, mammals, and even fishes (in the case of an aquatic plant community). A residential lawn is a plant community, but it is hardly a native plant community. It is created and maintained by humans using non-native species. It has few plant species (usually only one or two), offers very little wildlife or soil-holding benefits, and has high water and maintenance costs.
Implications for lakeshore owners:
- Native plant communities serve as buffer zones, the key element in natural shoreline management. If you have native plant communities on your shoreline, protect and enjoy them.
- Residential lawns, riprap, or other "hard" structures severely disturb the natural shoreline environment and alter important ecological functions.
Overviews of Minnesota's Native Plant Communities are below. More detailed information can be found here.