Natives vs. Non-Natives

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The challenge with planting native trees in an urban environment

Like so many cities across the country, Charlotte is filled with cars, concrete and asphalt. The urban environment has been manipulated from the native landscape and is full of stressors that impact trees. The trees planted by TreesCharlotte and the City of Charlotte are selected for the best resistance to these stressors and to drought.

The trees planted in the urban planting strip – the area between the sidewalk and street – are called “street trees” and are maintained and managed by the City. Street trees need to be resistant to non-native conditions such as air pollution, heat island effects and pests, compacted soils and tight root areas. In many cases, non-native trees are better suited for these urban conditions. Many Charlotteans are concerned about planting non-native trees. There is a big difference between exotic or non-native trees, which are simply not native to North Carolina, and invasive trees, which can cause damage to the local environment, whether it’s other plants, trees, wildlife or humans.

In partnership with CMS, TreesCharlotte designates areas on school campuses to be reforested with native species trees. These areas can account for the majority of the trees planted. Landscape- style trees make up the remaining trees and may be either native or non-native depending on site conditions. This past fall, over 80% of our trees planted at schools were native varieties. TreesCharlotte’s NeighborWoods programs bring tree planting and care to neighborhoods across Charlotte. The majority of trees planted or distributed are native varieties because these trees are carefully cared for and frequently requested by residents, and the trees commonly provide wildlife habitat. So while it is recognized that natives offer an abundance of benefits including biodiversity, food for wildlife, and beauty and uniqueness to the area, the “right tree in the right place” must always be considered. Our primary concern is the long-term survival of the trees we plant.

To learn more about tree species, visit the N.C. State Cooperative Extension website at https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/.

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