On natives—we’re all alright

On natives—we’re all alright

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There’s no more surefire way to get everybody all riled up on this site than to talk about native plants—whether or not to use them, how much to use them, who is too obsessed with them, who isn’t obsessed enough, where they work best, and where they work worst. I’ve read many an impassioned comment on these; too often, such comments are riddled with straw men arguments.

Is there a need? Aside from a very few fanatics—and in spite of Doug Tallamy’s arguments for natives, I do not consider him a fanatic in the least—most proponents of natives I know encourage their use. They do not enforce their use, nor can they. Unless certain plants—like ivy in the Pacific Northwest—are banned, or you live in some kind of HOA hell, you can pretty much plant what you want. Nobody is making you plant natives; nobody is making you plant anything.

But, in spite of all the hot air, I find so much satisfaction in my native plants. There’s the Collinsonia canadensis (at top), with its tiny but interesting blooms. Known commonly as horsebalm, this, like many of my natives, provides late summer interest and statuesque foliage. My Eupatorium varieties are starting to bloom now, as well, including the tangentially related blue mistflower.

I’m very pleased by the Clematis virginiana (above), which doesn’t seem to suffer from wilt, like the Sweet Autumn variety, and climbs undaunted through trumpet vine (not a native everyone likes).

This is the time of year, when the lilies are ending and the roses just coming out of pause, that I appreciate natives the most. They’re not spectacular, flower-wise, for the most part, but they add lush foliage at a time when the garden is beginning to harden, and their aggressive tendencies help them survive in my shade- and root-laden urban wilderness.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on August 5, 2014 at 7:30 am, in the category It’s the Plants, Darling, Ministry of Controversy.

11 Comments
    • Vincent Vizachero
    • 14th November 2016

    Okay, except no one outside of your imagination takes such a hard line on native plants.

    • Tia Scarce
    • 15th November 2016

    A couple of years ago the city of Seattle attempted to create a new “green code” that would have mandated 75% natives in any new or replaced landscape. It was so shockingly arbitrary (and so poorly written) that they were forced to withdraw it. Western Washington is a unique place–many natives are understory plants and others are enormous trees. The forest is a beautiful place, but expecting to recreate it to that extent amid streets and buildings was misguided.

    • admin
    • 15th November 2016

    I am a proponent of natives…and adaptives…because, quite frankly, it is somewhat impractical to think that a garden or landscape (unless never touched) could be anything other than a mix. Have you ever tried to spec plants for a native only garden…it is really difficult. The availability is just not there. But if a plant has been proven to be hardy, water-wise, and noninvasive (an adaptive) then put those puppies in! As with all things…extremes are dangerous! My 2-cents! ~Julie

    • Lois Hinrichs
    • 15th November 2016

    Not to throw a wrench into the works, but apparently Christopher C of Outside Clyde has spent major energies trying to eradicate invasive and tenacious Clematic virginiana from his North Carolina garden. I hope you have less trouble with it in your colder region.

    • Mary McAllister
    • 16th November 2016

    I like native plants too and I encourage everyone to plant whatever they wish in their own gardens. My only objection to the native plant movement is their demand that non-native plants and trees be destroyed on our public lands because of the herbicides needed to accomplish that. Garden Ranters often respond to my objection that Garden Rant is interested only in private gardens. Of course, what people choose to do in their private gardens is not my business. However, Garden Ranters should take into consideration that the native plant movement is also intruding into private gardens.

    • Mary McAllister
    • 16th November 2016

    That is certainly a legitimate exception to my too general statement. I share your concern about the toxicity of pesticides. That’s why I am opposed to the pesticides being used in our public parks for the sole purpose of killing plants which some people do not like. The risks of these pesticides outweighs any theoretical benefit of using them in places called “natural areas.”

    • Ivette Soler
    • 16th November 2016

    I am SO sorry about your diagnosis – and unfortunately, it is one of the illnesses we see with toxic exposure. Hopefully, one day, people will understand that poisons do not belong in our environment, because they are POISON. What someone does in their garden most certainly DOES affect the community at large, for the bad and, fortunately, for the good as well.
    I wish you much luck and a speedy recovery. My best thoughts are with you.

    • Mary McAllister
    • 16th November 2016

    I said “Garden Ranters” referring to some of the comments that are posted in response to my observations about the eradication of non-native plants in public open space. I also said “often” as opposed to “always.”

    • JodiepCook
    • 16th November 2016

    Mary, it seems you are equating the Invasive Plant Council and ‘the native movement.’ I’m not sure they are one and the same. Cal-IPC includes an excellent set of brochures entitled ‘Don’t Plant a Pest’ where they feature invasives commonly used in gardens and encourage planting better-behaved garden alternatives. The alternatives they recommend are a mix of climate appropriate plants and not exclusively or even primarily natives.

    • Mary McAllister
    • 16th November 2016

    I doubt that Cal-IPC would quibble with an association with the native plant movement. I am familiar with their brochure, “Don’t plant a pest.” It’s a very good example of my original comment. The tree featured on the front page of the printed version of the brochure is blue gum eucalyptus. Cal-IPC’s recently revised assessment of blue gum is that it has “low invasive potential” in specific conditions and that its population in California is stable. One reason why its population is stable is that it has not been available for sale in nurseries for decades. Cal-IPC also acknowledges this fact in its recently revised assessment of blue gum. Yet, despite acknowledging these facts, Cal-IPC proposes to maintain its classification of blue gum as “moderately invasive.”

    • Sarah
    • 17th November 2016

    I agree. I am a native plant proponent, but I do not believe that means we should grow native plants and nothing else. Some people, though, really do believe this.

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