What is a “Native” Plant?

In the United States, native plants are generally defined as plant species that have existed in an area before European settlement.

Rocky mountain columbine flowers and foliage
Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aguilegia caerulea). Native columbines make a beautiful addition to the native garden. Photo credit: Susan Buffler
reddish brown color of Little bluestem grass in the fall
The native mid-western drought tolerant grass Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) adds attractive fall color to the landscape. Photo credit: Carolannie Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
bright red smooth sumac plants on a hillside among dried grasses in the fall
The shrub Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) in a native landscape. Photo credit: Bryant Olsen Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Yellow arrowleaf balsamroot flowers in the Utah foothills in spring cover the hillside
Colorful Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) blooms in spring and is native to the Intermountain West region of the U.S. Photo Credit: Susan Buffler

Some Definitions of Native Plants

Federal Register: “Native” plants are “all species of plants and animals naturally occurring, either presently or historically, in any ecosystem of the United States.”

USDA Federal Executive Order 13112: “With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: A species that historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.

For lists of local and regional native plants, consult local Cooperative Extension Service offices or state and local Native Plant Societies.

Additional Resources:

Audubon – Plant Native Species


Florida – Native Plants: An Overview