Native Plants of England Defined


Here’s the answer to my own question about how "native plant" is defined for England:

Plants in Britain can be classified as native, naturalized, alien or cultivated. There are around 35 species of native
tree, for example, depending on how certain sub-species are counted.
These plants were already here or arrived here naturally – that is,
without Man’s help – after the last Ice Age, about 11,000 years ago.
Britain was still part of mainland Europe and plant species slowly
moved north-west into it as the climate improved and the ice retreated
northwards. (There were only about 200 species here at end of the Ice

With the gradual
warming of the world’s surface, the ice began to melt, raising the
seas. Eventually, about 8,000 years ago, the English Channel flooded.
This stopped the natural migration of plants from the rest of Europe,
one consequence of which is that we have only about half as many native
species as France, for instance. (Scientists know this from pollen
deposits and fossil remains.) This date is taken as the cut-off point
for deciding whether a plant species in native or not
. Examples of
native trees on the reserve are Ash, English Oak and Field Maple.

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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.


  1. Susan, thanks for researching this. It’s very interesting, but it makes me question even more why we Americans have settled on such a euro-centric definition of the term here in the U.S. Oh, wait a minute–actually, 200+ years of American history answer that question well enough.

  2. Whilst in Southern Africa recently I was told that whereas the Western Cape Floral region (Fynbos) has 5,800 endemic species out of 8,600 species, Britain only has 20 endemics out of 1500 species of plants.
    Is this correct? Anyone out there who can substantiate this?

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