Position on Conservation

The Virginia Native Plant Society is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the native plants of Virginia and their habitats, in order to sustain for generations to come the integrity of the Commonwealth’s rich natural heritage of ecosystems and biodiversity for purposes of enjoyment, enlightenment, sustainable use, and our own very survival. To this end, we advocate and follow practices that will conserve our natural endowment, and we discourage and combat practices that will endanger or destroy it. We are committed to do all we can to slow the accelerating conversion of natural landscape to built and planted landscape and to reduce its damage to natural ecosystems.

Conservation Philosophy and Principles

Conservation of the native flora is the unifying, highest goal of all activities and actions of the Virginia Native Plant Society. Plants provide the foundations of the world’s ecosystems and ultimately sustain us and virtually all other life on earth. They give us oxygen to breathe, food, clothing, medicine, and shelter; they moderate temperatures, conserve water and soil. They also give us beauty, majesty, and mystery that nurture the human spirit. Virginia’s natural landscape – from wild coastlines to forested mountains and fertile valleys, from shale barrens and rugged heights to great rivers and swamps – has through the millennia evolved and nurtured plant communities unrivaled in America in richness and diversity. We believe that preserving the Commonwealth’s native plants is of the highest importance, and that ultimately this can be done only by saving their native habitats.

Because ours is a rapidly-changing landscape, this is an urgent task. Population expansion and changes in the way we live have produced never-ending development and road-building. The rampant destruction and fragmentation of habitat that results is the most serious threat to our native plants. Foremost among the others, many of them also directly related to human activities, is the spread of invasive alien plants. Already, scientists estimate that 10 percent of the native plants in the United States are at risk of extinction. To avert such significant loss, we believe it is essential to adopt, without delay, approaches to land use that serve the needs both of human communities and of the wild communities that are vital to their well-being.

We believe that conservation is everyone’s responsibility. Our daily actions can have positive or negative consequences for nature and the environment, and we work for greater understanding by all Virginians of their native plant heritage and their responsibility to conserve it. Intelligent action by caring, informed citizens can stem much needless loss. Landowners, in particular, even in suburban subdivisions, play a role in conservation and recovery, and the larger the holdings the larger the role. Landscape professionals, a wide range of businesses, local, state, and federal governments all make important contributions. Voluntary organizations, which bring together people with varied perspectives, are especially important in calling attention to issues and in educating the public and key decision-makers.

While in a broad sense the Virginia Native Plant Society’s concern for conservation extends to the animal world and the physical environment, our focus is the native flora in its entirety – the inconspicuous as well as the conspicuous, trees and shrubs, sedges and grasses as well as showy wildflowers. We do not divide the plant world into weeds and wildflowers; each species has its own special history and its own role in the ecosystem. While our attention is mainly on vascular plants (horsetails, clubmosses, ferns, conifers, flowering plants), we also encourage the study and conservation of other plants and plantlike organisms (algae, mosses and liverworts, fungi, lichens) and the education of the public to their place in the ecosystem.

Native plants are species or other distinct genetic forms that have either evolved in the wild settings where they now occur naturally or arrived there from where they originated, whether near or far, by natural forces of dispersal operating over time without the help of humans. They are integral parts of these ecosystems, and part of our history and heritage as well. Alien or exotic plants, those that humans have introduced from other places, deliberately or inadvertently, may thrive, but they are not adapted to play the ecological roles of natives. For practical purposes, in North America a species is deemed native wherever it occurred when the first Europeans arrived and wherever it has migrated naturally since then, although it must be presumed that the very earliest peopling of the continent brought with it some Old World plants. On a finer scale, a hard-and-fast distinction is difficult to make. For example, when a species native to one part of the continent is introduced to a part it did not historically occupy, or when a species is reintroduced to a place where it once occurred but has since been extirpated, that species is native on one level, introduced on another.

Without question, alien species make an enormous, essential contribution to human welfare, in the fruits of our agriculture and the beauty of our gardens. Many become naturalized, persisting and spreading without assistance. In Virginia, as in North America generally, naturalized species have long been a significant part of the wild flora, a third or more in many places. Some are beloved as wildflowers or have a fascinating cultural history, and many have proven to be relatively benign in the ecosystem.

A few naturalized introductions have become aggressive pests, however, crowding out native species and causing costly damage or destruction to native ecosystems, agriculture and forestry, and the built environment. This is a serious, ever-growing problem, and we believe that, where feasible and advisable, appropriate measures should be taken to control or eradicate such invasive alien species, and to prevent the introduction of new invasives. Nevertheless, we encourage the citizens of Virginia to respect their flora as a whole, without a priori discrimination against all naturalized species.

The Virginia Native Plant Society welcomes gardeners and persons with allied interests and encourages them to garden so far as possible with plants native to Virginia, a diverse palette that offers many novel and beautiful elements for the garden or public landscape. These plants are adapted to the local conditions in Virginia’s ecosystems and thus less likely to need high maintenance, and they pose less risk of invasive escape than alien species.

Conservation Policies

The foremost task of the Virginia Native Plant Society is to do everything we can to save the present diversity of Virginia’s plant communities and natural habitats and secure its continuation. To this end, it is the policy of the VNPS:

  • –  To foster in Virginians of all ages love and respect for the natural world and appreciation of the diversity and interdependence of the Commonwealth’s plants and wildlife, with primary focus on plant life in all its natural settings.
  • –  To treat all wild places with respect and care, avoiding disruption of native plant communities through needless trampling or other damage or destruction of fragile habitats, niches, or species, and taking into account the concerns of landowners and of other visitors. A few careless actions can ruin much for many.