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One of the hottest trends on the home gardening front today is xeriscaping, the use of plants that conserve moisture and therefore require little watering. Gardeners everywhere are discovering them, incorporating them into established gardens, and planning new gardens around them.

When it comes to origin, plant species are broadly grouped into two classes: native and exotic. Exotics are simply defined as plants which came to us from other countries. Natives, in the strictest sense of the word, include only those plants that were growing in North America on their own before the arrival of European settlers. Looser definitions, however, often include with natives such familiar wildflowers as Queen Anne’s Lace, which escaped cultivation long ago to naturalize in fields and along roadsides.

Aside from their ornamental value, there are many practical benefits to including native plants in home landscapes.

Environmental benefits
Native plants are able to hold their own against local pest populations, so no pesticides are needed. In addition, many wildflower species grow naturally in lean soils and so perform best without fertilizer, reducing the amount of nitrates that accumulate in ground water.

Ease of care
Because native plants are well-adapted to the local conditions, they often get by without the coddling that other species sometimes require. Natives that come from hot, dry areas are usually drought tolerant -- for full sun areas that are difficult to irrigate, try black-eyed Susan, swamp sunflower, and sundrops.

Benefits to wildlife
Again, as components of a balanced eco-system, native plants are invaluable to wildlife. Berries and seeds provide food for migrating birds as well as local populations. Red blossoms in particular are attractive to hummingbirds. And, many birds and small mammals rely on woodland plants for shelter and nesting materials.

Conservation issues
According to the Center for Plant Conservation, one out of every ten plants native to the United States is in danger of extinction. Since this is attributable mostly to loss of habitat, it makes sense to provide homes for native plants in our own gardens whenever possible. But in the true spirit of conservation, it is important to buy only nursery-propagated plants -- never those that were collected in the wild.

Personal satisfaction
There is always something fun and satisfying in planning a ‘theme’ garden. If you’re the kind of gardener that doubles as a “collector”, you will probably enjoy the thrill of the chase as you hunt for plants native to your state or your region.