What is Natural? Posted on March 22nd, 2017 by

Blend of natural and unatural

You’ll find a lot of references in our recent issue of the Twinflower newsletter and Arb Sightings blog to plants that are either “supposed to be here” or “not supposed to be here.”

We in the natural resources world do that a lot.  We do it with plants, animals, and pretty much every living thing on the planet.  We talk about certain species being native to a region and other species being non-native and “exotic.”

Natural resource folks have our reasons for segregating plants and animals in this way…  After all, any plant or animal that’s not from here is a potential threat and competitor to the plants and animals that are.

But it’s important that we not get carried away and think of these plants as evil or malevolent.  They are, after all, only doing what they are supposed to be doing according to mother nature.

It brings us to the core of the question:  “What is Natural?”

It’s funny how complex this question can be isn’t it?  If a plant makes a seed that sticks to an animal which then transports it to a new region, we say that plant has expanded its range naturally.  But, if the animal that transports the seed is a human, we view it as unnatural and label that plant as “non-native.”

We sometimes regard anything humans touch as being “unnatural.”  Straw is a part of nature, but a woven straw hat is not.

Don’t get me wrong…  I do believe there is a line between “natural” and “unnatural.”  Between “native” and “non-native.”  But it’s interesting and important to keep in mind that the line is a blurry one indeed.

Scott Moeller, Naturalist and Director


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