There is more to a LEED building than just the physical structure, the surrounding site and landscape also play a role in certification. New buildings must utilize native and/or adapted vegetation for a certain percentage of the site area. Native and adapted vegetation is defined as plants that are indigenous to a locality…and are not considered invasive species are noxious weeds.
Over the past 40 years, the trend in landscape planting for new sites has been to use the same few plants over and over again. Horticulturists identified shrubs and trees that could survive the harsh conditions of the heat island effect and limited root space typically found in a parking lot. These lists were commonly referenced by Landscape Architects, site designers, and land use planners and quickly became standardized. Before long, landscaping for new sites in California was identical to landscaping for new sites in Indiana. Little diversity was found in the plantings, and typically the same 1 or 2 trees and shrubs were repeated throughout the site.
LEED opened the door to a new standard, and as site designers became aware of the benefits of native and adapted plants, built landscapes started to change. Native and adapted plants use less water after establishment (reducing irrigation demand) and can withstand the climate extremes of the locality. Using a diversity of species means plants will be more resistant to diseases, and reduce mortality. Native plants also provide habitat and food for native species – even in highly urbanized areas bees, butterflies, and birds are drawn to their food sources. Lastly, native and adapted plants can enhance the beauty of the site, and give building users a sense of place. Regardless of your intent to use LEED certification, consider maximizing the use of native and adaptive plants on your next building project.