The Wisdom of Native Plants, South Florida and Miami
In the great scheme of nature, all living species spend many generations co-evolving with their surrounding eco-systems to become perfectly suited for their role in their environment. They not only develop the defenses and resources needed to survive, but they also develop particular traits that contribute something unique to the life around them. As an ecosystem forms and evolves, all the interwoven qualities and contributions of every organism become essential to the survival and growth of all other organisms within that shared ecosystem.
Where plants are concerned, all the plants in a particular ecosystem share common ground, quite literally. The condition and constituency of the communal soil is determined by the life processes of all the plants who share that space. In this respect, it is easy to see how the effects that one plant has on the soil, directly affects every other plant.
Most of the time when we are planting ornamental or edible plants in our garden, we choose the plant according to our aesthetic or culinary preferences. Our planting choices are rarely based upon the geographical and cultural heritage of the plant species. However, Brent Knoll of Knoll Landscape Design in Miami, wants to tell you that it certainly should be.
An ecosystem can only thrive when the resident organisms are strong healthy and mutually compatible with the environmental conditions. When a plant is a native to a particular environment it has been conditioned from its inception to fit perfectly into the system in which it was brought up. Native plants have strong relationships with not only other plants but also with local insects, bacteria, and fungi. Through the long process of evolution the plants that have become a permanent resident in their ecological community have developed the means to peacefully and beneficially coexist with their neighbors.
When a plant is taken out of their native setting they become disoriented to their surroundings. They do not fully understand the customs or even the “language” of their new environment. When plants and other organisms evolve together they use biological communication to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. They ingeniously establish a means to feed each other while preserving their own life and vitality. They also develop a multi dimensional means of communication, and through a language of taste, color, aroma, and so forth, they will relate the details of this symbiotic dance to their neighbors. When a new plant enters this system without that vital means of communication it is vulnerable and its chances of survival are greatly reduced.
In a properly functioning ecosystem, the insects, bacteria, and fungi that feed on plant matter have created an agreement with their source of nourishment that will allow both parties to thrive. For example, when an insect feeds on the tissue of a plant, it would not be in that insects best interest if their feeding process interfered with the life processes and reproductive cycle of that plant. If that plant was not able to thrive and replicate, then that insect would lose a vitally important source of nourishment and/or shelter. For this reason, the insect has learned how much of the plants tissue can be consumed before affecting the vital processes of the plant. The plant communicates with those insects through its carefully designed and multi faceted language to let them know when enough is enough and, for their own sake, the insects respect the signals.
When a foreign plant is introduces to a new environment it lacks the understanding of the new ecological dynamics. It doesn’t know how to explain its boundaries and needs to the surrounding life and will in most cases be consumed by the surrounding environment. We see this all the time in our gardening practices. Why is it that we must habitually disperse pesticides and fungicides on our domestic plants for the sake of their survival, when in nature these plants thrive on their own amongst the presence of countless more potential “threats” than in our backyards?
By introducing foreign plants to the ecological domain that we inhabit, we are interfering with the harmonious evolution that has been taking place their long before we came on the scene. When our garden is subjected to pests and dis-ease we may view the situation as interference from nature, however the more accurate conclusion is that our botanical choices are creating resistance to a force that has long been in place and functioning perfectly. When we learn to adapt ourselves to these ecological conditions and relationships our lives and gardening chores become much simpler.
When we choose native plants for our gardens and landscapes then we are bringing strength and solidarity into our backyard environments. As we begin to choose more and more native plants our soil quality will improve and we will begin to host a balanced system of beneficial organisms to help pollinate and protect our plant life.
It is not necessarily a requirement to include only native plants in our gardens especially when our aim is to grow our own food all year. However, by always consciously choosing the native option when possible we can exponentially improve the quality and compatibility of our gardens. Brent loves to plant native butterfly plants in his South Florida organic gardens, edible landscapes and ornamental landscape designs. Corky stem passion vines, firespike, milkweed, and lantana are just a few of the gorgeous native flowers that become an attractant and/or larval plant for the many beautiful native butterfly species here in the Miami area.
Even where edible plants are concerned there are native options that will always contain that inherent wisdom which will bring them vitality and you, abundance. The everglades cherry tomato plant is native tomato of South Florida. The Everglades tomato has adapted to the hot summer sun and will produce fruit even in our sweltering summers when no other tomato can take the heat.
Native plants are wise beyond any of our botanical or horticultural sciences. They possess a wisdom that, if we learn to listen, can teach us a great deal not just about plants, but about all the mysteries of life. When we use native plants we are going beyond the preservation of our soil and into the preservation of natural heritage. Planting natives is just one more way to simplify our lives and find more sustainability by stepping into the flow of nature.
Would you like to establish a natural habitat in your back yard? Knoll Landscape Design specializes in Certified Wildlife Habitats. Give Landscape Designer Brent Knoll a call today 3054965155 for a consultation or landscape design.
Miami’s own Brent Knoll, of Knoll Landscape Design, makes sustainability and ecological responsibility his top priority. Fortunately for Brent’s clients, his application of sustainability brings style and flare. We know, of course, that growing our own food is one of the most sustainable and ecologically responsible things we can do. It revitalizes our soil, fortifies our health, saves countless barrels of fossil fuel, and builds a healthy natural relationship for the generations to come. But what about the other aspects of our lifestyle? What about the materials we use to build our houses, furniture, floors, etc.?
Did you know that it can take up to 30 trees to build the average single family home? Did you know that at least 7,000 sq. kilometers of rainforest are cleared annually for lumber use? As the population grows and we need to build more homes these numbers are only climbing, and at this rate we are rapidly losing our most pristine and important global forests.
What can be done? As we are collectively coming to admit that, for the sake of our planet, we must find an alternative source of energy to fossil fuel, we must also collectively search for a viable alternative to our conventional construction materials. Just like internal combustion, the industrial standard of pine lumber was a shortsighted and ecologically impractical idea from its inception. While seeming convenient and lucrative in the moment, the rate of growth and the required means of procurement make it a highly destructive and ecologically jeopardizing endeavor with zero chance of sustainability.
As this industrial nightmare closes in on our most vital ecological resources, our hero, bamboo, most certainly comes to the rescue. Bamboo shows us that we haven’t necessarily chosen the wrong trees for the job, but maybe we’ve chosen the wrong plant altogether. Most trees take quite a long time to reach a stage in which they could be harvested for viable lumber. Trees also are a home for so many species of animals; from birds and squirrels, to ants and bees. Bamboo on the other hand is actually a grass; and we all know how rapidly and abundantly grass propagates itself.
Bamboo has a growth rate that exponentially exceeds that of conventional lumber trees. Coniferous trees, such as southern pine or Douglas Fir, are not ready to be harvested for at least 30-35 years. That means that once the logging industry harvests part of a pine forest, that forest will not fully regenerate for at least two decades.
Bamboo on the other hand, is ready to be harvested in as little as four months. This means that if you harvest your lumber from bamboo plants to build your home, the lumber you harvested could regenerate before the construction of your home was even finished!
Now that we’ve seen how bamboo blows away the competition in rate of growth, let’s look at how it stacks up in the strength department. Surely our conventional lumber, that we have been using for so long to build our homes, must be much stronger than bamboo, right? Not even close.
Despite the hollow structure of the bamboo culms, they are extremely durable, and what’s even more important, extremely pliable. When a structure made with standard lumber boards faces heavy strain from wind or shifting earth, the boards can warp, split, and even snap. When bamboo faces the same strain it bends and flexes to keep the structure intact. In fact, there are many regions of the world that are prone to regular earthquakes where bamboo is used as the primary building material. In these regions bamboo is considered virtually earthquake proof.
One of the most troubling issues of our conventional lumber system is the havoc wreaked on our forests by the collateral damage of the logging process. Trucking in the large machines necessary for that job is a loud and dirty process which does not go unnoticed by the surrounding ecosystem. The trees harvested in this process have been housing entire biological systems and many species of living creatures for decades before the saw falls upon their bark. The practical reality of this process is heartbreaking and not something any of us would want to be a part of.
Bamboo can grow anywhere, and is harvested relatively simply. The rapid growth rate almost requires significant harvesting, and because of the quick turnover rate and lean structure, bamboo doesn’t generally shelter wildlife long term.
In Asia, bamboo is widely used in all types of construction from family homes to sky scrapers and large bridges. Even now in our country, this earth saving concept is catching on; but is it catching on quick enough?
From furniture to flooring, bamboo is now being used as a sustainable and efficient alternative. Yet, because the conventional lumber industry has become such a strong institution the masses are reluctant to let go and embrace the change. A mix of corporate greed and general ignorance, this reluctance could be a great detriment to the revitalization of our eco system. Until the awareness and demand for this magical plant steadily rises, the materials will need to be imported and the cost to the consumer will not reflect the ultimate efficiency of such a product.
What can we do? We can realize it from the grass roots. If we want to see this change in our culture and society, then we can be that change ourselves; right from our own backyards. Bamboo can grow almost anywhere, and as luck would have it, in our sunny South Florida climate we can play host to quite a wide range of beautiful and exotic bamboo species.
By using bamboo in your edible organic landscape, you will be able to enjoy the elegant beauty, whimsical sounds, and reliable utility of this magical plant. Whether you are using it as lumber for your household DIY projects, or simply using it to replace the pine timber privacy fence, bamboo will enhance your landscape and ecological outlook in so many ways
Brent prizes his bamboo for their stunning beauty and their reliable sustainability; the two are inseparable as far as he is concerned. He loves his job because he knows that bringing our natural connections onto our back yard means saving the world with style, beauty, and grace. Brent knows that his organic gardens and edible landscape designs provide many levels of enjoyment for South Florida families.
The diverse beauty and abundant nutrition that the right organic edible landscape can provide will open us up to the inspiring realization that our relationship with nature always perpetuates abundance and prosperity. When we cultivate that relationship right in our own backyard we manifest that abundant prosperity in a way that is fully evident in our health, state of mind, and even our wallets. We rest easier as we witness the process of what nature can provide for us freely, and most important of all, we know that the more intimately we engage in this relationship, the more we contribute to the healing and rejuvenation of the planet itself.