Al Alborn

Al Alborn

Exotic plants from far away places are now available at local nurseries, hardware stores and supermarkets.  Some of these plants thrive in the non-native environment of Prince William County. 

But insects and animals tend to prefer plants they evolved with as a food source.  Because non-native species are not part of an ecosystem that evolved over centuries, they often have no predators to keep them in check and are not a lunch that native insects and critters recognize.  They tend to become invasive, dislocating native plants those critters are used to and disrupting the food chain. 

It’s important to remember we are at the top of that food chain.  When the food chain breaks down, it eventually affects us, our children, their children and their future.

Fortunately, a number of Northern Virginia groups and individuals have stepped up to mitigate the impact of non-native plants on our world.  Fifteen local groups collaborated to present the business case for a native plant policy to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. The effort was coordinated by Ashley Studholme, programs director for the Prince William Conservation Alliance.

During the board’s July 13 meeting, Studholme asked the board to direct the county executive to create and implement a policy requiring all capital improvement projects and other plantings on county land to use 100% Virginia native plants. She pointed out that this proposal would not require additional funding from the county.

The comments by Studholme and other coalition partners were well received.  County Executive Chris Martino updated the board on the status of a directive issued over a year ago to use native plants on all new county projects and any new plantings on existing county properties.  Bipartisan discussion among board members regarding how to move this initiative forward followed.  County government recognizes this is sound science, good environmental stewardship and important for the health of our community.

I interviewed Studholme to find out more about the proposal.  She was quick to point out this is a collaborative effort, with 15 Northern Virginia environmental groups signing a letter to Board Chair Ann Wheeler in support of the proposal. 

Sometimes we forget just how closely we are connected to our environment – and our responsibility to protect it.  We enjoy watching the bees, the butterflies and other critters that make up our world.  They are all connected.  You might notice fewer of some of these species every year.  Every non-native plant disrupts our world and breaks the chain of life upon which we all depend.  It’s time to repair the chain.  Start looking at your own property to see what you can do to protect our fragile environment.  Get rid of non-native plants, particularly invasive species and plant natives.  

The county’s commitment to native plants will set an example for developers, homeowners, nurseries and the rest of the community.  The Prince William Wildflower Society is a good place to start learning about native plants.  For advice regarding native plants or how to get rid of non-native invasive plants, contact the Virginia Cooperative Extension - Prince William  horticulture help desk (703-792-7747) and talk to a master gardener volunteer. 

Master gardener Kate Cohen’s succinct remarks to the supervisors said it best: “Go native!"

Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week.  You can learn more about Al at and LinkedIn.

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