March 25, 2021 - Somerville, MA: After three years of advocacy, Green & Open Somerville (G&OS) announced today that the Somerville City Council unanimously passed the Native Plant Ordinance requiring that native species are planted on city-owned land. Riparian areas, the Community Path, and along the Green Line Extension will have 100% native plants. Parks will be a minimum of 75% native, and street trees 50%.
Somerville City Councilor, Katjana Ballantyne said, "I'm proud to have proposed this native species ordinance. This achievement was a collaborative effort. This would not have happened without the expertise, tireless efforts, and passion from Renée, Tori, Brendan and David. With this ordinance we lead the country in restoring our natural urban ecosystem."
“We are really pleased,” said Renée Scott, co-founder of G&OS. “It’s not as strong as we’d hoped, but it’s so much better than what we had before which was no regulation on native plants at all. And, the good thing about this is, city staff and advocates alike support it.”
“We researched long and hard around the country to find another municipality doing something similar so we could use them as a precedent,” said Brendan Shea of G&OS. “To our surprise, we couldn’t find anyone else using anything beyond recommendations and suggestions. We think ours may be the first of its kind to mandate minimum percentages.”
Native plants evolved to live in this ecosystem over millions of years. They provide food and shelter to butterflies, moths, birds, bats, bees, and many other fauna, that also evolved to survive here. Those animals in turn feed larger ones, and on up the food chain. Plants are the foundation of the food web, and without them and the insects that rely on them for their own survival, life as we know it would disappear. Sadly, the modern horticulture movement has replaced native plants with introduced ones. While these newcomers are often beautiful in our gardens, they are, at best, not part of the food web, taking the place of those that were. At worst, they actively take over the ecosystem to which they have been added, pushing out any remaining native plants.
There are an estimated 3 billion fewer birds in North America today than in 1970. Insect populations are collapsing. “We are in the middle of the 6th mass extinction,” explained Tori Antonino, co-founder of G&OS, native plant landscaper, and a tireless voice for the importance of native plants. “It is our duty to all life on Earth to take care of our ecosystems, replant them, defend them, and give our insects and birds a fighting chance.”
“Though ecologists have had their eyes on this issue for several decades, the scientific evidence is pretty new, maybe the last 15 years or so, and it’s given us a picture of real urgency,” David Falk, of G&OS and Garden in the Woods said. “Folks need to do as much as they can with native New England plants, get rid of their lawns, and stop using pesticides. The public sector needs to be a big driver of change in this and bring back the wild plants of New England so we can begin to heal the land we live on.”
Green & Open Somerville isn’t stopping with the ordinance: it has been advocating for corridors of native plant gardens in Somerville, using parks and riparian areas as foundations, and then connecting those larger areas with road medians, street tree wells, roof gardens, and private gardens. “It’s a slow process, but we’re starting to get people to understand that these corridors will provide critical habitat and the ability to move from one safe space to another,” Renée Scott explained. “We hope to convince the city to plant beyond the minimum percentages, and to get private gardeners to get excited. Take the Massachusetts state bird, the chickadee. You need 70% native plants just to keep the chickadee population stable, not even to increase. So this is why the ordinance passing is so exciting! We can start to increase our native plants to support the wildlife that depend on them.”
Tori Antonino added, “It is a moral and ethical decision as well as one for planetary health. We kicked our fellow creatures out of their homes by our landscaping choices. We’re sorry. Come back!”