Distinguishing Native from Indigenous

Native and indigenous are two words that are frequently used to describe plants, animals, and even people. While there are many similarities between the terms, there are also subtle differences that should be highlighted.

Key Takeaways

  • Native and indigenous both refer to naturally growing plants, living animals, and original inhabitants of a particular region.
  • For animals, indigenous is used for species, while native is used for individual animals and not the whole species.
  • For human beings, both native and indigenous are used almost interchangeably.

In the case of plants, indigenous plants are region-specific in Australia, while native plants are those found in Australia but not necessarily specific to a particular region. When indigenous plants are planted in a region that is not natural to them, they may grow listlessly and unattractively with smaller and dull flowers. Some native plants that are not indigenous to an area can become invasive and spread like weeds.

For animals, the words native and indigenous are often used interchangeably to refer to animals that are found naturally in an area. However, it is more accurate to use the term indigenous for species while using the term native for individual animals. For example, one could say that cats are not native to America as a species, but a pet cat could be considered native to the area where it was born. Cats were introduced to America when they were brought there from other places.

Interestingly, these words are also used to describe people living in a particular area. Both native and indigenous are used to label the original inhabitants of a region, such as the aboriginal people of the United States and Australia. In reality, the distinction between indigenous and currently living people in a region is often made apparent by the marginalization of the original or native inhabitants. In some cases, these groups are referred to as minority or ethnic groups. When Columbus discovered America and mistakenly believed it to be India, Spanish people referred to all natives as Indians.

Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


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