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Wild Seed Project: Returning native plants to the Maine landscape

Biodiversity — The web of interdependent life that comprises plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and other microscopic creatures. It manifests at the ecosystem level (in forests, meadows, wetlands and marine environments) and within a given species (helping shape its genetic diversity and resilience). At all levels, human expansion and practices threaten biodiversity.

Domesticated Plants — Domesticated plants, such as garden vegetables, depend on humans to reproduce and grow.

Ecosystem Services — Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by healthy ecosystems to people. Ecosystems are communities of plants and other interacting organisms including insects, animals, fungi and microorganisms in their physical environment. Forests, freshwater lakes and tidal marshes are examples of some of Maine’s natural ecosystems. Ecosystem benefits include productive food systems, clean air and water, climate regulation, extreme-weather mitigation, and peoples’ physical and mental well-being.

Invasive Plants — Plants that are not native to a particular locale and spread aggressively. Without the controls that predators provided where these plants originated, invasive plants can outcompete native plants, altering habitats, reducing biodiversity and contributing to species extinctions. Although all non-native plants are considered exotic, not all of them are invasive (e.g., Queen Anne’s lace). Many of the species that have become invasive in the Northeast came from Eurasian locations with similar climates, enabling them to thrive here.

Living Soil — A community of organisms that work together break down organic matter into soil, which then provides essential nutrients to the organisms that live in that soil.

Native Cultivar  — A selected form of a native plant (chosen for ornamental traits such as double flowers, novel color or short stature) with a commercial name, such as Aster ‘Purple Dome.’ Most cultivars are reproduced by cloning, so they lack the genetic diversity (and resulting resilience) of seed-grown native species. Increasingly, cultivars are patented and may not be propagated by individuals or nurseries. Recent research confirms that many cultivars do not support the needs of pollinators and other wildlife as well as true natives do.

Native Plants — Species of trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers, grasses, and ferns that grew in eastern North America before Colonial times and coevolved, over millennia, with the region’s animals, insects, amphibians, bacteria, and fungi. Many of these native plants depend on one another for survival, and their interrelationships help sustain ecosystems (see Biodiversity).

“Native” is a relative term, given the natural ranges of plant species: Some plants native to New England, for example, may also be native to mid-Atlantic or Midwestern states. Two-thirds of the plants in New England’s natural areas are still native; the balance are exotic species introduced from other continents.

Native Species — This naturally occurring form of a native plant, also called a “true native” or “wild-type,” grows from seeds that develop when flowers are pollinated, mixing genes from multiple individuals. Genetic diversity leads to variations in how individual plants respond to conditions such as heat, drought, flooding or pollution, helping the species as a whole to be more resilient.

Plant Biomass — The mass of living plant material contained in leaves, stems, trunks, and root systems of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants. The term biomass is most often used in the context of energy production from organic materials, like wood; however, biomass is simply a measurement of organic material, and plant biomass is specifically a measurement of living plant material.

Rewilding — Rewilding is a deliberate shift from human-centered, intensively managed landscapes to humans sharing their landscape with the rest of nature. It is an intentional practice of restoring native plants to the landscapes in urban, suburban, and rural areas to reverse habitat loss, support ecosystem services, and bring nature back into our daily lives. Recent research published by entomologist Doug Tallamy demonstrates that for a landscape to support food webs, native plant species must represent at least 70% of the landscape’s plant biomass.

Wild Plants  — Wild plants, whether native or exotic to a particular region, grow and reproduces without human assistance.

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