Natives vs. Aliens

– Posted in: Miscellaneous
Chasmanthium

Chasmanthium

I’m sure you all have heard discussions over the past couple of years about native plants. Rick Darke’s book, The American Woodland Garden, made a convincing case for creating a deciduous native woodland garden. And alot of us have read articles on the reasons for planting natives: they create biodiversity and good air quality, use less water and pesticides, their root systems are stronger, and of course, there are aesthetic reasons for using plant material that is indigenous to the area where you live.

Vernonia noveboracensis-Ironweed
Vernonia noveboracensis-Ironweed

But how many of us gardeners really take the notion that using native plants in our landscape vs. alien or exotic species will literally help save the ecosystem? In Doug Tallamy’s recently published book, Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife In Our Garden, he makes a great case for why we need to be planting with natives: in order to save the ecosystem.

I won’t go into great detail about what Doug said (read the book). But in short, he offers solid evidence that we are killing off the majority of insects who cannot get enough nutrition from plants in order to survive. Alien plants which are not indigenous to a particular region, even if they were imported from another country hundreds of years ago, cannot be eaten by the insects. It is an evolutionary dance that native plants have with the insect population.

In Delaware alone, 40% of all native species are threatened or already extirpated from the state. And 41% of Delaware’s bird species that depend on forest cover are now rare of absent. (pp.29-30 in Tallamy’s book). It has been estimated by The World Conservation Union that 12% of all bird species are threated with extinction because of invasive species and habitat loss. I sure didn’t know 20+ years ago when I planted 2 Bradford Pears in my backyard (which were both lost due to storms) that one day they would be considered an invasive species. Obviously, neither did Thomas Jefferson or George Washington know these facts when they imported specimens from other countries.

So, I raise the following question to all of you gardeners in the blogosphere.  Do you take this message seriously, that we must start using a preponderous of native plants in our landscapes in order to save the ecosystem? How often, when ordering online or shopping at a nursery, do you take into consideration whether or not the specimen is a native? Believe me, the majority of the plants in my garden are aliens. It is only in the past 5-10 years that I’ve come to realize that it is just as easy to use Vernonia, Chasmanthium, Eupatorim, Solidago, Aster, Ascelpias, Echinacea, Monarda, plus a huge list of native perennials, deciduous shrubs and trees and evergreens, as it is to buy non-native plant material.

Please chime in on this subject. I really want to know your opinions and get a dialogue going on this subject. The retail nursery business, which is extremely competitive, is not going to stock their shelves with more natives until gardeners and homeowners begin to demand it. And if you think this concept is all nonsense, please feel free to write in why. All opinions and thoughts on the subjects are appreciated and welcomed.

Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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Lisa at Greenbow July 25, 2008, 2:24 pm

I cringe when I see Fragmite in every ditch, field or open area. It is one reason I have not jumped on the grass- in- the- garden wagon. It makes Purple Loosestrife look tame.

I too have lots of alien plants in the garden but I like to think they are not aggressive. I try to plant naitve whenever I can find something that works in the area I need it in.

Lisa-
I am of the same ‘school of thought’, although in hindsight, I have made some terrible mistakes with what I have planted over the years.. If I had an unlimited budget, I would rip out alot of my plants and begin again, experimenting with more natives than not…..as much for seeing if it is possible for me to create an almost exclusively native garden and make it aesthetically pleasing to my eye as well. Thanks for chiming in! Fran

deb July 25, 2008, 2:25 pm

I try to use natives here at home and in our community gardens. We will be planting native grasses in the rain garden mostly to return water to the ground, but also for biodiversity. I recently heard a lecture on wildlife. It seems that our game birds need us to return habitate more than planting food sources. Thanks for spreading the word.

Deb-
Good work on your part. Please send us or post before and after photos of your rain garden. I just finished an article on them last month and would love to try one in my garden. Biodiversity is an important factor…thanks for your message! Fran

Fern July 25, 2008, 3:37 pm

I garden exclusively in containers, so I haven’t spent as much time thinking about natives (since I am not in danger of introducing invasive species), but I really should. I live in Southern California and we’re in the middle of a drought. Native California plants would use less water, not to mention help local wildlife.

Fern-
That’s true about native plants using less water. Also, remember to add water retaining crystals as well as mulching after planting. I’m sure your container gardens are magnificent. Some of the specimens in Southern California make me swoon! Fran

Kim July 25, 2008, 6:03 pm

I went through a phase where I tried to find mostly native plants, at least for new plantings, but it was difficult to find a list of plants that are native to our area — and when I did find a partial list and went looking at nurseries, I would find plants that sort of corresponded (scientific name not exactly what I had on the list, but seemed close). I never knew if I was getting a true native or some nursery-bred hybrid that was far removed from the original.

I still try to get native, but mostly I lean towards just avoiding the really invasive plants.

Kim-
Avoiding invasive plants is a really good thing. As far as finding natives in your area as well as a listing of all invasive plants, I think if you google in the native plant society for your state or region, they will most likely have up to date information for you. Let me know the results if you decide to pursue it. Thanks for writing in! Fran

Anna July 25, 2008, 8:03 pm

I thought about going native until I realized that I had created the perfect conditions for some plants to become invasive that wouldn’t normally do that. Out in nature, they are controlled by less lush soils and critters. I don’t attract enough of their natural enemies.

Anna-
I don’t quite understand what you’re saying about natives becoming invasive. There are certainly ones that do but not a huge number. Perhaps I have a lack of knowledge as far as the conditions you are describing. Have you thought about planting certain natives, even a few that you can experiment with? If you can explain your situation further, I would appreciate it. Fran

Benjamin July 25, 2008, 11:54 pm

Fran, Doug’s book changed my life, and came juse when I was laying out my new garden. When I buy plants I look for natives, particularly when buying online (I hardly ever buy aliens online, but I’ve recently succumbed to some carex). At local nurseries, I’ve found some aliens I like–a lot–but 95% of the time I put them back down. I SO FIRMLY BELIEVE that we need to plant with natives, if not 100% then 75%. It is easy, and the natives are sooooo cool (I have all the one you listed above, and ironweed and I are TIGHT right now).

Still, I wonder: I have a european elderberry, and, although not the native one, is it still close enough to be used by native insects and birds? Maybe?

Benjamin-
Doug is pretty cool. He spoke at an Earthwatch meeting where I was the moderator. From what I can see, he is not into the politics of this stuff but is strictly a researcher…the head of the Entomology and Wildlife Ecology Dept. at The University of Delaware.

If his research is valid, and it is backed up by some in depth resources in the back of the book, then what he has written about does need to be addressed. To me the whole issue is matter of fact….if there’s a problem that can be fixed…then what do we need to do to fix it? If his book and other resources offer us solutions, then why don’t we at least partially adhere to them? And how right you are….about %s. Planting 20% with native plants is better than 0%. Start with small amounts but begin to use them in your landscape.

Yep, ironweed is a terrific plant. I wait for those sharp purple flowers to begin to bloom in my garden this time of year. They offer such zestiness next to eupatoriums, smoke bushes, etc.

You’ll have to check out your elderberry. My hunch is because it says European elderberry it is not native. But what the heck???Enjoy it for it’s beauty!! Fran

Andrew Semprebon July 26, 2008, 6:31 am

Most of the plants I now buy are native, so its definitely a strong influence on my purchasing decisions. The only time I get a non-native is if I can’t find a native that will meet my requirements, or it has some unusual characteristic that I really like.

Of course, there are some excellent on-line resources for native plants in my area (Northern Virginia), which certainly makes it easier – http://www.nps.gov/plants/pubs/chesapeake/toc.htm being one of the best.

Andrew-
Thanks for chiming in. I concur with your practice of searching out native plants first but when not able to find what I want, I will proceed with buying the plant best for the design scheme and location. Thanks for a good website for those folks living in your area. Fran

Doug Green July 26, 2008, 2:31 pm

I just posted a reply on my own blog to this question and linked directly back to this post. I confess I feel a little curmudgeonly when I see this question come up over and over again. Having said that (and in my post) I do live in the country and I am surrounded by native stands of trees and bush so I feel no need to restrict my own gardening to native species or to even to consider their provenance when picking.

Doug-

No need to feel like a curmudgeon. You are expressing your point of view….and that is what we want to hear. That’s why I wrote that post…to have gardeners express their opinion. I do think we live in very different times than even 10 orf 15 years ago when it comes to the research that is being churned out by respected scientists about the benefit of planting with natives vs. non-natives.

I also think that because you have been involved in the gardening industry for such a long time that for you it has been a long running, back of the room type of dialogue. Alot of gardeners are just becoming aware of the importance of natives on their property.

My philosophy is, the more, the better when it comes to planting natives. And believe me, I know the problem of invasiveness with certain natives….in particular, chasmanthium. But that invasiveness pales when it comes to the money being spent in trying to eradicate invasive alien species in the US.

That being said, I would guess that 80-90% of my garden is non-native. And I am not going to dig it up and start from scratch. But I am going to be much more attuned to searching out natives when I go to nurseries.

I got onto your blog and read your thoughts. Thank you. They are truly appreciated. Fran

Pam/Digging July 26, 2008, 11:13 pm

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center here in Austin converted me into a native plant person when I moved here in 1994. For many years, I tried to plant predominantly natives, with only well-adapted, non-invasive species to supplement.

Going native wasn’t about feeling smug that it was the right or only way to garden. It was simply about wanting to embrace the natural beauty of the region I’d found myself living in, making my garden look like Austin, and making it friendly to the insects, birds, and other creatures that depend on native species. It was also about wanting to make gardening easier on myself by using plants that WANT to live here, rather than ones I’d have to baby just to keep happy.

In the last several years, I’ve expanded my plant palette and found many non-natives that I adore and now use in my garden or suggest to others. I feel fine about it because I do still use so many natives that my garden has a sense of place and is habitat friendly. With those goals in mind, there is room to play with exotics in the garden, and I like to do that as much as anyone.

Pam-
Great post! Whenever I think of natives, the first thought that comes to my mind is the Laybird Johnson Wildlife Center (correct name??) in Texas with pictures of blue bonnets, etc. You are in the heartland of a state that was on the native bandwagon from the beginning.

Your point about making gardening EASIER because the plants are indigenous to the area is an important one. It is so much easier to garden with natives…I think we often forget that point and get caught up in, what I have just recently discovered, turns into a somewhat heated/political conversation about right/wrong.

Of course, I have seen photos of your garden which is magnificent…and agree, why not feel free to use exotics in conjunction with natives…as long as gardeners are aware that using some natives in their plant palette is extremely good for the environment…and yes, can make gardening a whole lot easier. Fran

Mr. McGregor's Daughter July 27, 2008, 1:11 pm

Both my sunny garden & my little woodland are full of mostly native plants because not only are they easier to care for given the proper conditions, but they also look “right” with my house & the trees surrounding it. When I was starting these gardens, not only did I look for native plants, I looked for those propagated from plants in the area, the local gene pool. This is important because it helps ensure genetic diversity and the continuance of local plant characteristics. Fortunately, it was not difficult to find these plants as there is an excellent native plant nursery nearby & a local conservation group holds a native plant sale each spring, with many of the plants propagated from the group’s own praire.
However, there are alien plants in my garden, but I have been very careful not to plant anything invasive. I would like to point out that there is a difference between “invasive” & “aggressive.” Currently, I am trying to eradicate both Chasmanthium latifolium & Asclepias syriaca from my gardens because I don’t have the space for such thugs. They aren’t invasive species because they belong in the surrounding ecosystem.

MMD-
You always make such great points in your posts. And the one I particularly like this time is the differentiation between aggressive and invasive. I am having the same problem with Chasmanthium…..but that’s OK…am dealing with it slowly but surely (hopefully).

You are lucky that you have a good native nursery near you and a local conservation group that holds a plant sale each year….that does make life a bit easier. But still, with the internet, I believe that all of us can find a way to access at least some natives into our gardens. There are several plants that we may be using already in our gardens that are actually well known plant material….and alot of us may not even know that they’re native! Fran

VP July 27, 2008, 4:18 pm

I try to use natives where I can, but it is quite hard to find out which are truly native species here in the UK. E.g. one website will say its native, another may say it was introduced by the Romans! If a plant’s been here for nearly 2 millenia, does that still devalue it as a plant?

I therefore supplement this (non) guidance with information on a plants attractiveness to insects, and other values such as scent, extended season of interest etc. I will avoid those plants that are on the warning list as being invasive.

We are blessed with a climate which gives us the widest possible palette of plants to draw upon – as evidenced by the many plants our human invaders have bought with them to our shores over the centuries!

I see we have Earthwatch in common – I worked in the Oxford office from 1995-1998 as well as being a volunteer on projects prior to that.

VG-
It sounds like you’re using common sense as to how you go about selecting plant material. I do agree with you that it can become difficult as to which plants are appropriate, especially when it gets down to cultivars. I don’t know in the UK how it works, but we do have state native plant societies that can be helpful….but often, you still need to do some research.

I too am not against exotics at all, except when they are invasive. I think if a gardeners chooses to mix natives with exotics, no problem. I just want to see gardeners become aware of the need of planting with some natives in their garden. yes, Earthwatch is a great group of folks doing good things. Fran

Kevin Campbell July 27, 2008, 8:45 pm

As a person who has spent his entire life in the nursery industry, I am trying to repent from all the non-native invaders that I have sold to customers over the years. We now are trying to go exclusively to natives and the benefit they will have for our environment. People who rely on landscapers must be better educated.

Kevin-
I’d be curious to know why and when your nursery made the switch to ‘natives’. I did get on your website to see how you presented it….quite lovely. How have your customers been responding to the ‘switch’? Any information you can pass onto our readers about how you select the species you do to sell, etc., would be greatly appreciated. If you want to write about it on your own blog, just send us a link and we’ll make sure it gets posted. Coming from the industry, you have a unique perspective that most of us don’t have. Thanks for your words. Fran

August 1, 2008

I have taken the liberty, per Kevin’s permission to post this note that he had sent me. I think his background and how he has evolved into a nurseryman of native plants is interesting and a worthwhile story. Fran

Fran thank you for the kind words about our website. I thought I would
write you to answer the questions you asked. I will try not to make this
too long.

I am 45 and was born into the nursery business. My family owned and
operated a 60 acre nursery in the western piedmont of North Carolina in
Iredell county in a very rural area and still is although things are
changing. When I was 15 I did not give much thought to the varieties of
plants we grew of whether they were native or not. But about 10 years ago
after growing such plants as English Ivy, vinca Minor, Bradford
Pears,various forms of Privette and others I started to really observe. In
our rural area as I traveled the back roads to and from different parts
of our nursery, and observing the sides of roads along this part of North
Carolina, and the back corners of our customers yards I saw instead of our
native flora the aforementioned plants and others in a wild state escaped
from cultivation. This along with the boom of the Charlotte area in which
we are classed as a suburb, seeing new developments spring up overnight in
which there was once farms made me think even more, Farms are not perfect
but at least in the old days the farmer did not have to plow up every inch
of land to make it. They could afford to leave certain spots of land that
was not viable to farming to nature. Now it is more feasible to get out of
farming and sell the land so every acre can be leveled so the new
homeowner can go down to the local mass retailer and buy enough Bradford
Pears to line their new driveway.

As far as the varieties we are choosing we are trying to select native
varieties that will adapt to this new home environment. Most of the time
this means full sun and poor soil conditions. We are continuing to add
varieties as we go and right now are about 50-50 native. As we add other
natives we hope in 2 years to be 80-20 and in 5 years 95-5 native. Most of
the non-native plants will be sun and drought tolerant plants like the ice
plant and sedum which seem to be harmless and somewhat beneficial to
favorable insects. We are in a two year drought and the second in this
decade. I will not grow any non native grasses. Some like Miscanthus are
starting to show up voluntarily where they are not supposed to be. Every
day I see a new clearing for a home where a patch of woods stood. We need
to try to propagate as many of our native species as possible and try to
introduce as many of them as we can to our customers.

As far as how our customers are reacting so far is mixed. some believe as
I do and others just follow the latest trend. So we are trying to educate
them with as much knowledge and interesting facts about these plants as
possible to make them more appealing. Thank you again.

Kevin Campbell
Campbell Family Nursery
192 Little Wilkesboro road
Harmony NC 28634

Layanee July 28, 2008, 9:25 pm

This is a difficult topic for me to address because I do live in an area with five acre zoning which means that there are natives all around in abundance. Certainly I would not discount a native and, in fact, plant to add some native viburnums to my garden but I also believe the the environment is not static. It is continually changing and humans are part of the equation both for good and bad. Evolution is based on the survival of the fittest in changing ecosystems. Species don’t change to survive but survive because they have changed in some manner that makes them better able to cope with their surroundings.

I do sell nursery stock for a company who has a good deal of natives in their list and those plants are the ones that are less quick to sell. Just an observation from the trenches.

Layanee-

Thanks for writing in. I took advantage of the expertise of Doug Tallamy, the author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife In Our Garden to respond to your thoughts.
Here they are:

It is true that “nature” will adjust to changing environments through
evolutionary adaptations, but adaptation is generally very slow and is
measured in evolutionary time (thousands, tens of thousands, millions
of years). The problem is that humans are changing the environment
almost instantaneously compared to the rate of change evolution has
encountered in the past. Most organisms cannot adapt to the loss of
food and shelter fast enough, and so they die instead. For example,

Europeans brought the European genotype of Phragmites to this country
400 years ago. In Europe, Phragmites is the host plant for 175 species
of insects (that is, it makes lots of bird food) and therefore is a
productive, contributing member of the European ecosystems in which it
grows. In the U.S. Phragmites only supports 5 species of insects. So
after 400 hundred years, only 5 of our insect species have been able
to adopt Phragmites as a host plant. More will certainly adopt it in
the coming years, but it will probably be 100s of thousands of years
before Phragmites is a contributing member of all of the millions of
acres it has invaded. In the mean time those areas are impoverished
and support far fewer organisms than before Phragmites invaded. Same
story with Melaleuca in Florida. This tree (escaped from people’s
gardens) now covers hundreds of thousands of acres of the Everglades.
In Australia it is a rare tree but still supports over 400 species of
insects. In the Everglades it supports only 8 species 120 years after
it’s introduction. We now have over 3400 alien plant species that are
covering nearly 200 million acres in the U.S. The point is, that when
we load the landscape with alien invasives or alien ornamentals, most
of our insects are not able to adapt to the loss of their native food
plants fast enough to survive. We need those insects to feed the rest
of our wildlife. We can be hard nosed about this and say ” Well, only
the strong should survive” but at the rate we are going we will lose
most of our native species way before they adapt to our ornamental
landscapes. We need to ask ourselves whether the benefits we derive
from landscaping with Asian plants outweigh the threat to our
biodiversity.
written by Doug Tallamy

Saxon Holt July 29, 2008, 5:04 am

Fran – The idea of “native” deserves a long and detailed dialogue and I feel a bit curmudgeonly like Doug Green. It is too late to worry about native plants ruining the ecosystems; they will or they won’t, and well meaning gardener’s have no real say in it.

As a California gardener I cite the fact that 95% of our native grasslands are no longer pure. My garden is more likely to get weeds from the ecosystem beyond my garden than anything in my own garden could do beyond it. To be sure, I am careful not to have any known invasive plants like Brome or Pampass grass, but even if I did and even if I and all my native plant friends make every attempt to eradicate invasives from the ecosystem we will only affect a small area near our population centers.

It is laudable, even valuable to have gardeners use native plants as oasis for the critters and bugs that depend upon native flora, but silly to think suburban garden are preserving ecosystems.
Beyond the suburbs is where ecosystems truly matter and where we must be careful and strive to preserve open space and wilderness.

I also confess to taking a cynical view of the whole definition of “native” plants in the garden community. I have seen many gardens across the country and find an extraordinary broad definition of “native”. Is Echinacea or Eupatorium native to your region ? Which specie and subspecie? Which native syrfid flies need which?

Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid native plant person and think this is the only approach to sustainable gardens but not because of ecosystem viability. Those who really go in for true ecosystem viability will collect seed only from local ecologies which commercial nurseries can never do. Diehard native plant folks won’t have anything to do with most gardeners – and unlike most gardeners they don’t usually care about an ornamental aesthetic.

In my own current post on GGW I talk about Ceanothus x pallida a hybrid of our own California native lilac. This highly ornamental shrub would be considered a “native” to some and is quite adapted and sustainable, but I am sure it does not support the same biodiversity as its native parent. And I would not argue that it should. It is too late to think we can have genuine native ecosystems in our cities and suburbs.

Saxon, a reply from Doug Tallamy to your post:

“There is no doubt that we are not going to be able to recreate natural
ecosystems in our cities and suburbs. But there are vast areas of the
country, particularly east of the Mississippi, where there is little
left but cities and suburbs and tiny wood-lots far too small to
sustain nature for very long. So the question becomes, what can we do
to our living and working spaces that will enable at least some of our
species to survive in a human dominated landscape. Population surveys
have clearly shown that nearly all of our species are declining. We
convert thousands of acres of natural area into new suburbs every day.
State Natural heritage programs have estimated that some 33,000
species are currently Imperiled. My contention is that if suburban
landscapes were dominated by natives (primarily woody natives),
instead of Asian ornamentals and 40.5 million acres of lawn, many of
these species would have the food and habitat necessary to survive.
This is not guaranteed, but given that there are no compelling
ecological reasons to favor aliens over natives throughout the
landscape, I think it’s worth some effort to see how much biodiversity
we can bring home to suburbia by changing the landscaping paradigms
that were developed for aesthetics with no regard to ecological
function. My wife and I have been thrilled to see just how quickly
this can happen in our own yard. We have lived in our house for 8
years. In that time we have increased the number of breeding birds
species from 12 to over 50. We have done this by planting lots of
native trees and shrubs that produce lots of bird food in the form of
insects , berries and seeds. “

Catherine, My Garden Travels July 29, 2008, 9:58 am

I believe that there is a place for both. A woman once came into my nursery and scolded me for selling non natives because she was concerned about the butterflies and bees. I took her into my display garden areas and pointed out the flowering natives. Then I showed her the butterfly garden filled with Mexican Sunflower, Zinnias, Verbenas, Lantanas, Parsley, Bronze Fennel, and the list goes on. The bees and butterflies where all over these plants, plus the flowering natives. Discussing this subject is almost as dangerous as talking about religion and politics. So I’m going to say that I’ll remain open minded, but cautious when choosing my non natives, and there will always be a place for them in my garden. All that being said I’m in the process of planting non invasive US natives at our local park, because our local wildflower preserve will only grow Pennsylvania natives. I think if you want people to go native you have to educate them on their beauty and benefits, and when they choose a mop head hydrangea over a spicebush it’s probably because the hydrangea works for them.

Catherine-
There is certainly nothing wrong with using non-invasive plants in your garden. But I think that in Doug Tallamy’s book, he is stating that because insects cannot adapt to eating non-natives that it is eradicating the diversity among them which consequently has an effect on all other insects, birds, wildlife, etc. The statistics in his book, based on years of research support what he is saying. This is not a philosophy: it is fact. So….no one is criticizing the use of non-natives. I think that all anyone is trying to say is that it is useful to become aware of the importance of natives and that the more that one uses in the landscape, the better.

Thanks for your thoughts. And yes, I agree with you that when someone choosed a mophead hydrangea bush, they are doing so for aesthetic reasons more than for any other one….and that is fine. Fran

Gavriella July 30, 2008, 11:59 am

OK.

Very interesting theory.

For my money a more direct reason why the insect population is dwindling and thus followed by the bird population is pesticides.
I work in the so called “green” industry and the amount of people who walk into the nursery daily demanding a spray to kill whatever is eating their plants is truely shocking. So many of us are so removed from our native enviroment that most customers I talk with have no idea there are “beneficial bugs” in their yards. They want a quick fix…it takes a lot of talking and explaining to get them to consider the prospect of companion planting, picking caterpillars off plants, or letting the insects live out their short dining lifespan (i.e. Japanese Beetles) because most of their plants will survive these indignities.
I think the poisons our culture uses around the house, in the yard and in our fields growing food are the culprit here.

I quite agree that many gardening problems are better served by planting natives…they are just so darn hardy!
Best,
Gavriella

Gavriella-
Great point! And I totally agree with you how shocking it still is that so many people are addicted to chemicals and don’t even think of/or consider all natural alternatives. And I do think that chemical pesticides are a huge reason why there is so much illness in our environment and with humans today. Thanks for your thoughts. Fran

Nedwina July 31, 2008, 9:19 am

Anyone who shrugs about using native plants should count the birds in their yards. The bug eating birds, not the seed eaters. When I lived in a suburban neighborhood, all I saw where the usual seed eaters, (attending the local feeders)with the occassional Grackle & Robin. Now that I’m in a spot with a large swath of unadulterated forest nearby, and a neglected field, (and no feeders) all I see are bug eaters. Phoebes, Mockingbirds, Wrens & Flickers! (And those are the ones I can name- there are others.) The most important point from Tallamy’s book is that birds need bugs. Especially baby birds. Planting berry bushes is ok for some adult birds, but if you really want to promote bird activity, provide food sources for their young: bugs!

I have a huge garden. The birds are in it constantly, keeping my vegetables remarkably pest free. Funny how that works!

But will I buy & plant another pretty alien? Probably. But if I do, I’ll balance it with a native. It’s the least I can do.

Watching a young Mockingbird displaying its wing spots to flush out its prey from the grass is just amazing. And makes me feel a solemn priviledge & responsibilty. My fetish shouldn’t force that mysterious & graceful creature to look elsewhere for its meal. (Or compromise it with pesticides & herbicides.)

Nedwina-
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your important words. Yes. It is the truth. It is fact. That the more you plant with natives, the more the birds and insects that used to thrive in your locale will return. Your story is an important one to share…..and the truth is, we as humans, only share the earth with other living creatures. It is our responsible to help them thrive, not destroy them. And your philosophy of countering your purchase of an alien with a native makes perfect sense. Fran

Raymond D'Hollander August 3, 2008, 4:50 pm

I started my garden in Central New York 15 years ago. Part of the back is a retention pond that had converted to a cattail wetlands. I found that much of the shrub vegetation was invasive Eurasions and phragmites and purple loosestrife were beginning to make inroads. I have battled the invasives for a decade and am starting to win.

When I drive or walk through many areas in the Northeast, I am astonished by how many areas are filled with invasive Eurasion shrubs.

One of the biggest issues that I have found is that the nursery and landscaping business is generally ignorant about their plants and the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides. It seems like there has been a symbiotic relationship over the last 50 years between a public who want to view their garden as an extension of their living room in nearly every way and the lanscaping industry that has been happy to oblige.

I find that I have to go into nurseries armed with lists of plants so I can identify which ones are native to my region because usually the nursery personnel don’t know and the labels don’t say. I have found it amusing that some of the most interesting recent native plant introductions, such as physocarpus and aronia named varieties, were developed in Europe instead of North America because the plants were liked and used over there.

As I did research, I found out that many plants that I thought were imported actually werenative to the region while others that I thought were native becasue I saw them all the time were actually invasive non-natives. Some of my favorite plants turned out to be native, which was good. I am amazed at how many great plants are native but are just being made available through the general nursery trade.

Some thoughts on the overall use of natives versus non-natives in the garden to maximize some of the benefits that Douglas Tallamy has written about:

1. Use only native trees for the large trees in a garden. This is a large percentage of the overall leaf and seed mass in a garden. The upcoming potential loss of the native ashes due to Emerald Ash Borer should result in a focused attempt to replant with a variety of native large trees. Unfortunately, many of thre state lists for suggested replanting include numerous eurasion species, including some invasive species.

2. Focus more attention on the native understory trees and large shrubs that provide another large mass of foliage as well as cover and nesting sites. Too many gardens go straight from very large trees to flowers and miss out on wildlife benefits as well as privacy screens and four-season interest.

3. State agencies should clearly identify invasive non-native shrubs, flowers, and grasses so that people can be warned not to continually plant them in garden after garden.

4. Nurseries should identify if plants are likely to have been found within a hundred miles or so of their location in pre-Columbian time. The lowest level (small shrubs, flowers, grasses) could then be a reasonable mix of natives and non-natives.

Raymond-
Whew! You really know your stuff and have laid it out in an organized, simple and rich manner. I concur with you on every single point. The understory part is critical in creating a deciduous woodland. Again, I refer to Rick Darke’s book, The American Woodland Garden, for those who want to understand more of what you are saying.

Plus, what you have said about local and state agencies advising homeowners to replant with non-native and sometimes invasive species is mind boggling and frustrating.

I do think that the more the public becomes educated and demands changes, the more the nursery trade will have to cater to those demands…or else their businesses will suffer.

Thanks for a magnificent post! Fran