Why and How to Buy Native Plants

WHY Native Plants?  96% of terrestrial birds needs insects, especially caterpillars, not just nectar or seeds, to raise their young.

90% of insect larvae (caterpillars) can eat only plants from one or a few plant families.  For native insects, these are primarily native plant families with which the insects have co-evolved.  For example, monarch butterflies can gather nectar from many different plants, but their larvae (caterpillars) can only eat milkweed.  (Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home, Updated and eExpanded version, 2007, p. 72)

As Tallamy explains, the untouched wild places in the U.S. are disappearing fast.  They cannot by themselves support the native birds, bees, butterflies, and other creatures that are essential to life on earth as we know it. We must use our gardens and landscaped areas.

Every time you plant a native plant, you do your share toward this critical task.

HOW to Buy Native Plants? But don’t just buy a packet of Burpee seeds labeled natives–they often contain seeds of plants not native to your area. And do not just pick up any plant labeled “native” at your local nursery or big box store: the label can be used loosely and deceptively.

It is important to distinguish among three types of garden plants:

  • Natives are plants that evolved in a particular geographic area.  The term is often used for plants that were present before European colonization.  Native plants support a wide variety of insects, birds, and animals that co-evolved with them in the same geographic area.  The word “native” can be interpreted locally or more broadly. For example, a plant may be native to the Connecticut River Valley, but not native to Hampshire County.  A good practice is to plant natives from as close to home as possible.
  • Cultivars are plants imported from somewhere else and bred for qualities that humans desire. They generally support far fewer varieties of insects, birds, and wildlife than natives.
  • Nativars are native plants that have been bred for qualities humans desire.  You can tell nativars because, in addition to the Latin name, they have another English name such as “sunrise.” Nativars may have larger blooms, different blooming times, different shaped sex organs, or other qualities that may or may not support the insects that co-evolved with the original native plant.  Further, nativars are usually propogated by cuttings rather than by seed, so the plants are all alike, and the genetic diversity found in the native seed bank is diminished. This diminishment is a threat to the plant’s ultimate survival.

Bottom Line:  The best action, recommended by the New England Wild Flower Society and Wild Ones, is to plant seed-propagated natives (sometimes called “straight native” or “species natives”) from as close to home as possible.

Places to get natives in our area are:

If you buy elsewhere, be wary of plants labelled “native.” Ask the retailer whether the plant is native to the Connecticut River Valley and has been propogated from seed rather than by grafting or cuttings. Also ask whether any neonicotoids have been applied to the soil–these are insecticides taken up by the plant, and they poison insects that feed on the plant.

For more details, see the Powerpoint presentation by Barbara Walvoord, Sharon Grace, and Adele Dowell at https://www.dropbox.com/s/ih9jsgwtba084oe/land%20native%20cott%20garden%203.pdf?dl=0

For a list of shrubs that you could consider for Lathrop gardens, go to: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ga6f3s0w75bimcp/land%20native%20plants%20for%20lathrop.docx?dl=0





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Nurturing Lathrop’s native plants and wildlife.

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