More gardeners should plant native

Driving down an average local road, a house comes into view, and with it, its landscaping.

Boxwoods line the home’s perimeter, with the shorter “Green Velvet” variety in the middle, flanked by a taller “Green Mountain” tree form at one end and a Japanese maple on the other.

Hostas occupy the spaces where shade is abundant while veronica and daylilies thrive in the sun gardens. Deep red barberries provide a pop of color along another side of the house.

Despite the other plants, most of the landscape is covered in green lawn.

This picture has become the inspiration for the landscaping of the average American home. Though this combination of plants has become common, all the plants I’ve listed are not native to North America.

Native plants are plants that are indigenous to a specific region without being introduced through human intervention.

The foreign plants that have become so familiar to us were originally brought over during European colonization. This has resulted in many common landscape

plants used in the United States having originated in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

So, what’s the harm in enjoying what these plants from afar add to our outdoor spaces?

According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the symbiotic relationships that native plants have formed with native wildlife create the “most sustainable habitat.”

On the contrary, non-native species that have been introduced from elsewhere “do not support wildlife as well as native plants.”

In the most extreme cases, non-native plants can become invasive and overtake naturally–occurring native species impacting the surrounding wildlife as well.

Unfortunately, the use of non-native landscaping is not only prevalent on private residences, but also outside of businesses and even in public parks and spaces.

Though SVSU touts the Wetland Preserve it upkeeps, beyond its 4-acre expanse (encompassing an admittedly impressive 50 native species) non- native plants are still often chosen
for landscaping outside of the main buildings.

Burning bush, showing the red coloration they’re named for this time of year, surround the sculptures outside of the Marshall M. Fredericks Museum.

Daylilies are used in several garden beds as well, and then of course there are the large expanses of green lawn that cover campus.

It may have become clear that I acknowledge the beauty that there is to be found in these non-native species, and for good reason.

When I was first embarking on my personal gardening journey, I found myself enticed to buy these same plants, not knowing their downsides.

Overwhelmed by all the beautiful options presented to me, I found myself buying many shrubs and flowers without looking much into their background other than sun and watering requirements.

When COVID arrived, I found myself getting more into gardening, as were the many people stuck at home during the planting season.

My piqued interest brought me to join many a Facebook gardening group to gain inspiration and advice.

It was through these groups that I became aware of the benefits of planting natives.

With my newfound knowledge, that summer I collected more shrubs and flowers, this time focusing on native plants like coneflowers, columbine and beebalm.

Pleased with my new plants, I was dismayed when I found I made another error: the plants I had purchased were all

native cultivars.
Native cultivars are native plants that

have been cultivated by humans to have certain traits. Often, the traits that are changed or enhanced in these cultivars can have an impact on the local wildlife that rely on that plant.

The best way to tell if you have found a cultivar or a straight native species is to look at the name presented on the tag. If only an italicized scientific name is presented, the plant is a straight native species.

If that scientific name is followed by another title surrounded in single quotations, you have a native cultivar.

Upon realizing this, I set out to find a greenhouse selling true native species.

This proved tougher than anticipated, as most of the growers that sell to big box stores and greenhouses strictly grow non-natives and cultivars.

With some extra time and Googling, though, I was finally able to find a local greenhouse that sold what I was looking for.

This fall I have finally begun amending my yard with native plants.

Soon, I hope to remove much of the grass on my lawn and replace it with more natives to create a pollinator’s paradise.

Hopefully, I will see many others making a similar change soon and the American landscape as we know it can finally revert to what it once was.

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