Native Plants to the Potomac Watershed

Have you ever been out on a hike, a drive, or a stroll and noticed tons of ivy covering the trunk of a tree? Was it covering just one tree, or was it everywhere, covering numerous trees as well as spreading across the ground? Well ivy, specifically English Ivy, is one of many invasive (non-native) plant species to the Potomac region. Here’s what you need to know about invasive and native plants.

What is a native plant?

Native plant is a term used to describe indigenous plants within a certain area. In North American, native plants are considered to be plants that were present before European colonization.

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Non-native plants are known as invasive species (such as that English Ivy). Over the years, these plants have been introduced intentionally or by accident into natural settings with negative effects to our regional environment. In their native settings, these ”invasive plants” would have been susceptible to animals and parasites that kept their growth in check, limiting their ability to spread aggressively. But when they are introduced to other locations, these natural checks and balances no longer exist and they can reproduce rapidly, taking over the native plant communities.

Why should you care about native and invasive plants?

Invasive plants are one of the top threats to habitat loss and degradation. Invasive plants can displace native species, eliminate food and habitat for wildlife, alter nutrient cycling in soils, and inhibit regeneration of native species. Take English ivy for example, when it climbs up a tree, it “chokes” it out, causing the tree to die. Through the loss of that tree and the canopy it provided, we lose a crucial and natural measure of protection that helps to prevent polluted surface runoff.

It can be tough to remove invasive plants, like bamboo which can put out new shoots each day. This is why Potomac Conservancy volunteers meet up twice a month to clear out invasives along portions of the Potomac. You can do this in your own backyard, too. By diligently keeping the pest species at bay, you’ll be making it easier for native plants to regenerate and you will be helping to bring the Potomac closer to its natural state. This helps restore natural habitats for a variety of wildlife species, as well as an important way to insure a healthier water quality in the river – remember, the Potomac supplies 90% of our region’s drinking water.

Want to do more than just learn about native plants? Join Rebecca on Saturday, May 3rd at Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland. You will be able to plant native species in a pollinator garden that will help bring butterflies, bees, and other wildlife back to the area. Email Rebecca at for more information or to sign up. Before the event, check out these additional resources on native and invasive plants to the Potomac River watershed.

For more information on native and invasive plants, check out these resources: