The state maintains a list of plants that cannot be imported, sold or grown in Massachusetts, but that wasn’t always the case.

There was a time when Oriental bittersweet and Norway maples were planted for color or shade, or because they grew quickly. In time, agricultural officials, garden centers and many homeowners caught on that some non-native species might quickly turn a landscape green, but they overrun and choke out native plants, drive away pollinators and wildlife, and often damage the natural balance that existed before humans started stomping around the environment.

The state’s banned plants list includes many species that might be recognized by the average person — by name, if not appearance. Kudzu, Japanese knotweed, mile-a-minute vine (or Asiatic Tearthumb), purple loosestrife and many others can quickly overrun an area.

Meanwhile, careful planning and promotion of native plant species can benefit a community.

A good example of the upside to native plants came recently when an environmentally oriented group in West Newbury — West Newbury Wild and Native, or WN2 — wrote to the Pentucket Regional School District superintendent urging the use of native species by the contractor on the $146.3 million middle/high school construction project.

WN2’s steering committee includes a federal wildlife biologist, the former director of Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary and the owner of a landscape design firm, so their interest in native plants and credentials are solid.

WN2 was on the right track, and School Superintendent Justin Bartholomew said native plants and cultivars were prioritized in the planning process. But with the project well underway, ensuring all, or even most, plants on the site are natives is unlikely.

A spokesman for the project’s landscape design company said he believes they achieved the goal, with 39% of the trees proposed for the site being native. However, WN2’s steering committee said that of the 50 new plants selected for the school campus, only 13 are native.

To its credit, the landscape company doing the work said it supports the use of native plants and plant diversity on such projects.

At this point, though, substituting native plants for non-natives or cultivars — plants created through cloning that often lack the genetic diversity needed to adapt to changes in climate — could add to the price tag of the project. So it might be too late to convince school officials and the general contractor that native plants should be substituted in every case possible at Pentucket.

But the efforts by WN2 should serve as a playbook for state officials.

Isn’t it time the state created a recommended list of native plants to be used in public construction projects, similar to rules and regulations for other aspects of public works projects?

Using native plants makes sense in many ways.

The U.S. Forest Service recommends using natives because they’re adapted to the local climate and soil where they naturally occur. That means they need less fertilizer and pesticides to keep them healthy.

Native plants also “provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals. Unlike natives, common horticultural plants do not provide energetic rewards for their visitors and often require insect pest control to survive,” according to the Forest Service website.

Native plants require less water than lawns and help prevent erosion. They also help reduce air pollution by sequestering or removing carbon from the air.

In its letter to the school superintendent, WN2 pointed out that “planting only native plant species at our school the Pentucket communities will demonstrate leadership as environmental stewards and show our children how to be change makers in their communities.”

Maybe that won’t fly this time, but WN2 has laid out a good roadmap for the state, municipalities and builders to follow in the future.

Using native plants sets a good example for people and is good for the environment.

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