Why Use Native Plant Materials?

man holding grasses inset with a a recovering burned area.
A successful post-fire restoration project with native grasses to stabilize soils and prevent erosion.

Native plant materials are used for a variety of purposes, such as stabilizing stream banks and floodplains, reducing soil erosion and sedimentation, reducing the spread of non-native invasive plants, improving wildlife and fisheries habitat, and mitigating the effects of wildfire and other types of disturbances such as illegal off-road vehicle use.

The types of projects include:

  • Post-fire rehabilitation
  • Post-harvest seeding or planting
  • Decommissioned road beds, cut-and-fill slopes
  • man sowing seed.
    A student volunteer hand-seeding native grasses in a restoration project in the Snake River Canyon, Oregon.

    Non-native invasive species infestations
  • Recreational developments, including trails and campgrounds
  • Riparian areas
  • Range improvement areas
  • Wildlife and fisheries habitat restoration
  • Mining reclamation
  • Special use sites and corridors

Although the Forest Service has a long history of using native tree species in reforestation, efforts to revegetate with other native plants (hardwood trees and shrubs, grasses, and forb species) is relatively new. As a consequence, supporting research, infrastructure and plant material programs are all in the early stages of development.

Advantages of Using Native Plant Materials

Native plant materials are advantageous because they:

  • Are unlikely to be invasive or overly competitive with other native plants
  • Return to or maintain more normal fire intervals and fuel loadings
  • seedlings planted along a streamcourse.
    Streamside restoration planting of various hardwood species. Vexar tubing is used to protect young seedlings from browsing by cattle and big game.

    helicopter seeding a burned area.
    Aerial application of native seed to prevent erosion and weed invasion after a wildfire.

    Provide food sources (nectar, pollen, seeds, leaves, and stems) for native butterflies, insects, birds, and other animals
  • Reduce energy consumption and pollution (limited need for mowing)
  • Reduce the need for pesticides
  • Enhance aesthetics and visual quality
  • Protect at-risk species
  • Protect biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage

When selecting native plant materials, it is important to have knowledge of the geographic origin and genetic diversity of the plant source. A good practice is to choose plant sources from an area that matches the restoration site conditions as closely as possible. This helps ensure project success because the stock will be adapted to local climate and soil conditions, and more resistant to damage from freezing, drought, common diseases, and herbivores. The maintenance of genetic diversity in plant sources will enable plants to adapt to changing climatic and environmental conditions. Plant populations with low genetic diversity may be more susceptible to pathogens and environmental stresses, and less competitive with introduced invasive species.

rocky ridge with yellow and orange wildflowers growing in the foreground.

A view of a mountain range with sagebrush prairies in the foreground.

wildflowers and grasses growing along a roadside.

Restoration projects on federal lands involve a diverse array of native species and plant communities. Represented here are desert, sagebrush, and grassland ecosystems in the western United States.

Additional Information

forest roadside revegetated with native plant species.
A highly successful roadside restoration project in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration. Establishing native species along roadsides is aesthetically pleasing and can reduce maintenance requirements. Road right-of-ways also provide connectivity across fragmented landscapes, serving as important dispersal corridors for propagules of desirable native plant species.

  • Roadside Revegetation: An Integrated Approach to Establishing Native Plants - This manual was a collaborative effort between Region 6 Forest Service personnel (Scott Riley, David Steinfeld, Lee Riley, Tom Landis (retired)), Kim Wilkinson, and the Federal Highway Administration (Western Federal Lands Highway Division). As described in the Executive Summary (PDF 0.2 MB), the manual guides readers through four stages of revegetation, including initiation, planning, implementation, and monitoring. Although the manual focuses on roadside revegetation, it has great relevance to other types of disturbances and activities where revegetation with native plant materials is desired.
  • A Manager’s Guide to Roadside Revegetation Using Native Plants (PDF, 3.3 MB) - This guide is intended to support managers in facilitating successful protection and/or establishment of native vegetation as an integral part of road design and construction. This report summarizes the concepts and approaches developed in Roadside Revegetation: An Integrated Approach to Establishing Native Plants, from a manager's perspective. While the full report is designed for field-level practitioners, it is this reference document that engineers and managers should use as a guide in project planning, design, and construction. This guide summarizes an integrated approach to effectively revegetating roadsides and other disturbance areas associated with road construction, modification, or obliteration. Management issues including scope, schedules, budgets, communication, and quality assurance are outlined as they relate to integrating revegetation practices.