U.S. EPA Contaminated Site Cleanup Information (CLU-IN)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. EPA Technology Innovation and Field Services Division
Plants and Revegetation
Plants and Revegetation image
This page provides an introduction to the use of plants and vegetation in restoring sites and includes information about the importance of using native plants and avoiding the use of non-native species when restoring sites.

Why revegetate degraded lands?

It is possible to plant trees, shrubs, and other types of vegetation on sites that are in the process of being restored. In fact, many sites have been revegetated with a variety of plants. For example, grains, wildflowers, and other carefully selected flora were planted at the Army Creek Landfill in Delaware to create a meadow to attract migratory birds.

While ecological function should be considered early in the site remediation process to ensure it is properly implemented, revegetation is one of the final actions taken at a site. All site revegetation requires careful planning that considers soil conditions, plant species, and past experiences. When possible, plant species native to the area should be used (this is a recommended element of green remediation best management practices as well – visit the CLU-IN Green Remediation Focus area for more information on how to incorporate green remediation practices and reduce the environmental footprint of a revegetation project). Plans must address land uses that affect plant establishment. In addition, the post-revitalization land use will have a significant influence on designs, implementation, and costs.

Why is it important to use native plants?

Although a variety of plant species can be used in a restoration project, native plants should be used when possible. Some of the benefits that native plants have for a site being restored are:

  • Native plants do not require fertilizers
  • Native plants do not require pesticides
  • Native plants require less water (no watering once established) than turf grass (lawns)
  • Native plants provide shelter and food for wildlife
  • Native plants are critical to a diverse number of pollinators
  • Native plants reduce air pollution
  • Native plants provide biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage
  • Native plants save money
  • Native plants can offer economic values (such as easily accessible food, natural medicine, herbs, and landscaping)

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Army Creek Landfill site in Delaware
Army Creek Landfill site After
Army Creek Landfill site After
Before and after photographs of the Army Creek Landfill site in Delaware. Site managers used a protective cap and native vegetation to convert a municipal and industrial waste landfill that had been in operation for nine years into wetlands and wildlife habitat.
Photographs courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Army Creek Landfill site Before
Army Creek Landfill site Before

How do invasive species affect an ecosystem?

Healthy ecosystems are dynamic and ever-changing, but their changes occur within a range of natural variability. However, some kinds of non-native plants and animals can create havoc when, accidentally or intentionally, they are released outside their normal range into a new region. The gypsy moth, nutria, zebra mussel, hydrilla, sea lamprey and kudzu are examples of non-natives that have caused massive economic and ecological losses in new locations because the natural controls of their native ecosystems were not there.

Not all non-native species become pests, or even survive, in new locations. But when they do, they often displace a whole suite of native species to become dominant. They then take on new labels: invasive exotics, or non-native nuisance species, or simply, invasive species. Their impacts are insidious because they often invade the open space areas we have preserved for native flora and fauna, as well as farmlands, forests and suburbs. How big is the problem? Consider the following:

  • Damages from invasive species, including only those damages that can be expressed in monetary terms, have been estimated as high as $138 billion per year. These damages affect agriculture, rangeland, forests, people's homes and yards, human and animal health, food supplies, fishing and boating, outdoor recreation, and many other areas;
  • Invasive species are thought to have been involved in 70% of this century's extinctions of native aquatic species, and 42% of current endangered species are impacted significantly by invasive species;
  • In January 2003 the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called invasive species "the biggest environmental threat to this country... something everyone needs to take very, very seriously."

It is increasingly important that managers of ecological restoration projects become aware of invasive species in their area, in both the aquatic and terrestrial environments. Aquatic invaders can have significant effects on water quality and aquatic ecosystem health due to the ways they affect bank stability and the volume of pollution levels in runoff. Non-native terrestrial plant species can crowd out and even replace native species in an ecosystem by using up and blocking access to resources such as soil nutrients, water, and sunlight. When possible, restoration projects should ensure that native species are used to repopulate degraded lands in order to avoid the problems described above.

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Further Information and Resources

Native plants

  • National Park Service Units:
    • Plant Conservation Alliance
      A coalition of government agencies and other scientific and conservation groups that is working to solve problems surrounding native plant extinction and habitat restoration.
    • Federal Native Plant Conservation Committee
      A listing and contact information for government agencies, conservation organizations, and academic institutions that make up the Federal Native Plant Conservation Committee.
    • Seeds of Success
      An interagency program coordinated though the Plant Conservation Alliance that supports and coordinates seed collection of native plant populations in the United States to increase the number of species and the amount of native seed that is available for use in stabilizing, rehabilitating and restoring U.S. lands.
  • Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) Online Directory
    The online CPC Plant Conservation Directory contains useful contacts in each state for information on rare and endangered plants, permit procedures, and government programs; botanists and other contacts in state Heritage Programs and Native Plant Societies; and a searchable database of organizations and experts active in the conservation of rare plants and their areas of expertise.
  • North American Native Plant Society
    Non-profit association dedicated to the conservation of native plants in North America. The site features information on where to find native plants and seeds, publications, and links to related organizations.
  • Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants
    Information and resources about using native plants in your home garden.

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Invasive species

  • CalWeedMapper
    A project of the California Invasive Plant Council, CalWeedMapper is a new website for mapping invasive plant spread and planning regional management strategies. Users generate a report for their region that synthesizes information into three types of strategic opportunities: surveillance, eradication, and containment.
  • National Invasive Species Council
    Website for the National Invasive Species Council, an inter-departmental council that helps coordinate all federal government activities related to invasive species (currently under construction).
  • National Invasive Species Information Center
    A gateway for information and resources on invasive species.
  • The Nature Conservancy's (TNC) Global Invasive Species Team
    TNC program dedicated to mitigating the damage caused by non-native species. Web page includes many resources, including invasive species guides, photographs, and news items.
  • National Park Service Plant Conservation Alliance – Weeds Gone Wild
    Provides information for the general public, land managers, researchers, and others on the serious threat and impacts of invasive alien plants to the native flora, fauna, and natural ecosystems of the United States.
  • Weed Science Society of America (WSSA): Journal on Invasive Plant Science and Management
    A new peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the WSSA. The journal focuses on the biology and ecology of invasive plants, invasive plant management and restoration, ecological and environmental impacts, risk and/or cost benefit analyses, case studies, and updates on new invasive plants and policy, compliance, and regulatory legislation. It is available both on-line and in print. A subscription is required to view full-text articles online.

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