California Native Plant Society

California Native Plant Information

Vernal Pools are a native ecosystem dominated by native plants (photo by Eva Butler)

What is a native plant?

Our native plants grew here prior to European contact. California's native plants evolved here over a very long period, and are the plants which the first Californians knew and depended on for their livelihood. These plants have co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes, to form a complex network of relationships. They are the foundation of our native ecosystems, or natural communities.

How do we know which plants are native?

Specimens, seeds and drawings of new world plants were taken to Europe by early explorers over many years. Thus, American plants were included in ongoing botanical studies of the world's flora. Also, the science of paleobotany allows scientists to compare fossil records with modern plants to understand which plants are native to an area.

Sea Fig (Carpobrotus chilensis) was once thought to be native (photo by Brother Alfred Brousseau)


Are native plants important?

Plants are a cornerstone of biological diversity. Native plants do the best job of providing food and shelter for native wild animals. Native plants are used in the development of new foods, medicines and industrial products. Commercial strawberries were developed using our coast strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, and pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, yielded Taxol, an anti-cancer drug. Native plants are also an essential element in the natural beauty for which California is famous.

Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is the origin of the cultivated sunflower seed (photo by Charles Webber)

Photo Stories

Garrya, Silk Tassel Bush
by Vivian Mazur

Rare and Endemic Conifers of Northwest California
by Michael Kauffmann

Flora of the Northern Mojave Desert
by Stephen Ingram, Nature Photography

Saving a Mehrten Meadow  
by Karen Callahan

Boggy Meadow of Big Bear Lake
by Ann Dittmer and Cindy Barrett

Vernal Pools: A Vanishing Habitat
by Dianne Fristrom and John Game

California Grasses: Poetry of Form
photographs by Mark Oatney
text by Clara Weygandt

Dales: A Flowering Kaleidoscope
by Carol Witham

California's Colorful Calochortuses:
An introduction

by Dianne Fristrom, John Game and Glenn Keator

East Bay Calochortus
by Robert M. Case

Butterfly Host and Nectar Plants
by Karen Callahan

Composite Perspectives
photographs by Mark Oatney
text by Clara Weygandt

Buckwheats of the Eastern Sierra
by Stephen Ingram, Nature Photography



Are non-native plants harmful?

Scotchbroom (Cytisus scoparius) excludes native plants and animals in many locations (photo by Brother Alfred Brousseau)

Non-native plants such as forget-me-nots and English daisies are widespread, yet fairly harmless. But others take over natural areas and smother native plants. They can do this because the natural pests, foraging animals, diseases or weather conditions which kept the plants in check in their homeland are absent here. These weeds deprive our wild animals of food and shelter. Many weeds belong to the grass, pea and daisy families, with jubata and pampas grass, broom, and Cape ivy as well known problems.



Benefits of native plants

Native vegetation evolved to live with the local climate, soil types, and animals. This long process brings us several advantages when we choose to incorporate native plants in our own gardens.

Read about the benefits of native plants



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