While shifts to high-intensity land cover have caused overwhelming biodiversity loss, it remains unclear how important natural land cover is to the occurrence, and thus the conservation, of different species groups. We used over 4 million plant species’ observations to evaluate the conservation importance of natural land cover by its association with the occurrence probability of 1 122 native and 403 exotic plant species at 1 km resolution by species distribution models. We found that 74.9% of native species, 83.9% of the threatened species and 77.1% rare species preferred landscapes with over 50% natural land cover, while these landscapes only accounted for 15.6% of all grids. Most species preferred natural areas with a mixture of forest and open areas rather than areas with completely open or forested nature. Compared to native species, exotic species preferred areas with lower natural land cover and the cover of natural open area, but they both preferred extremely high and low cover of natural forest area. Threatened and rare species preferred higher natural land cover, either cover of natural forest area or cover of natural open area than not threatened and common species, but rare species were also more likely to occur in landscapes with 0–25% cover of natural open area. Although more natural land cover in a landscape will not automatically result in more native species, because there is often a non-linear increase in species occurrence probability when going from 0% to 100% natural land cover, for conserving purposes, over 80% natural land cover should be kept in landscapes for conserving threatened and very rare species, and 60% natural land cover is the best for conserving common native species. Our results stress the importance of natural areas for plant species’ conservation. It also informs improvements to species conservation by increasing habitat diversity.