This is a fall round up of current issues relating to native plants. They highlight some of the issues that native plant enthusiasts should address to move forward in our goal of more regionally appropriate natives being planted more widely.
Good: USDA is sponsoring the first ever National Planting Day on Saturday September 8th where they urge Americans to plant native plants. They also explain how a community garden can earn the designation of a ‘People’s Garden.’ They further urge people to get involved by planting natives “in a highly visible location in your community. This garden can be a demonstration garden, promoting the beauty and function of native plants to your neighbors.” I hope you can participate in the festivities.
Bad: The person who wrote this post on National Planting Day, apparently does not know what a native plant is.
“The term “native” refers to all species of plants naturally occurring, either presently or historically, in any ecosystem of the United States. You can conserve water, protect soil from erosion and create habitat for wildlife simply by planting native species. A native plant garden also can supply a community with beautiful flowers, and raise awareness about the importance of protecting and restoring local ecosystems for future generations.”
She is using the definition for naturalized, not native. Using this definition of “native,” could lead to the use of any invasive nonnative plant ”presently” occurring in wild ecosystems, many of which were dispersed from cultivated material by natural means such as birds, water or wind. A better definition would include the phrase “not introduced by humans after 1492.
II. The Arbor Day Foundation:
Good: The Arbor Day Foundation has played a big part to help people, cities and towns plant more trees since 1865 when J. Sterling Morton started this foundation. In Florida alone there are 165 Tree Cities.
Bad: Where I live in northern Florida, the 10 free trees offered are 3 redbuds, 4 dogwoods and 3 goldenraintrees, plus I could qualify for 2 crape myrtles. While the dogwoods and redbuds are native here, the goldenraintrees are on the watch list as invasive for central and south Florida and the crape myrtles are way over planted. Besides, how well would trees grown in Nebraska do in Florida even if they were all native? See more on my post Arbor Day Foundation & Florida.
III. The City of Seattle & the Garden Professors
Good: The City of Seattle, WA posted a notice about an open house type of meeting to discuss suggested regulations for healthy landscapes including removing invasive plants and requiring contractors to plant 75% native plants in new planting sites. (Scroll to the bottom of this pdf file to see the landscape regulations.) It’s not clear whether this regulation would be for city-sponsored planting, developers, or homeowners.
Good: Linda Chalker-Scott of the Garden Professors’ blog posted a notice about this meeting and made an observation that the vast majority of Seattle natives are adapted for understory habitat that does not occur in local urban or suburban environments. There were many comments. I posted a link on the Florida Native Plant Society’s Facebook page as I often do from the garden professors’ blog, which covers a wide range of gardening topics.
I think the discussion did not keep in mind that these were “proposed regulations.” And here is a resource that shows a number of native hardwoods could be used among other natives and includes good information on how to create pockets of more natural habitats in the NW region including Seattle.
Ugly: Bert Cregg, another garden professor, from Michigan State University posted Are Natives the answer? Revisited where he started out discussing the proposed regulation over in Seattle and ended up attacking the whole native plant movement. He picked through the Washington State Native Plant Society’s website to find some misstatements. He did make some good points, which I’ll discuss below, but then goes on to say,
“Nonetheless, I think many in the native plant movement hurt their cause by parroting the same old lines without ever critically thinking about what they’re saying. Repeating a lie often enough times does not make it the truth.”
Then he continued,
“…but if they mean a ‘sense of place’ or a ‘connection to the natural environment’ then I can buy it. Many native activists, including Tallamy, run away from this argument – apparently it doesn’t sound scientific enough…”
I made a couple of comments on this post saying that Bert was off-base to be so dismissive of a whole native plant movement, but the various responses to my comments were also dismissive.
Ugly: I again posted the link on the FNPS Facebook page and this time our members were furious. Taryn Evans, president of one of the FNPS chapters, wrote an angry rebuttal on our blog: Are Native the Answer? Professor Cregg, Why Are You asking? She basically complained that if the smart horticultural professors are dissing the whole native plant movement then her work trying to convince people that it’s a good idea is undermined.
Ugly: Bert Cregg then posted yet another piece defending his stance So what’s your point? Saying among other things,
“Taryn was also critical of the tone of my post. For me and my co-bloggers this space is the editorial page of our lives. The blog is an opportunity to let our hair down a bit, vent on pet peeves, and sometimes shoot from the hip and play agent provocateur.”
He also claimed his criticism was mild and as more native planting ratios are mandated, that the native plant enthusiasts need to get used to criticism.
Good: Jeff Gilman the third garden professor decided to use Google+ hangout to clear the air and to have a live discussion on this topic. You can listen to the whole conversation, which was fairly cordial.
Bad: The discussion was between a bunch of professors and one member of FNPS, Laurie Sheldon. I was supposed to participate as well, but was booted out of the discussion during the introduction and could not log back in. But still, this was an unbalanced ratio of 7 to 1, where people insisted that there are very few native plants that would work well in urban environments and Bert claimed that there were no natives in Michigan that could work as street trees.
In checking later, I found a link from Bert’s colleague Mary Wilson at Michigan State where she lists “a few examples of native trees and shrubs to consider for Michigan landscapes.” Native plants are a great addition to the landscape to provide a thrifty, no-nonsense landscape for years to come.
Bad: Where was the Washington Native Plant Society in this discussion?
Where do we, as native plant enthusiasts, go from here?
Okay, let’s talk about Bert’s cherry-picked items from the WNPS website and his initial comments:
1) “Native plants are adapted to our climate of wet winters and dry summers.
True. But so are lots of non-natives.”
2) “Require less water than most non-natives once they are established.
Once again, adaptations such as drought tolerance are a function of the climate under which plants evolved.”
3) “Resist native pests and diseases better.
Sometimes. But unfortunately the days of worrying only about native pests are in the distant past. Exotic pests are here and they are here to stay.”
4) “Improve water quality by needing less fertilizer and no pesticides.
OK, here’s where I get confused. The reasoning in Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, is that native insects don’t feed on exotic plants, therefore if we plant exotics, native food pyramids will collapse and it will be the end of life as we know it. So… if native insects won’t feed on exotic plants, why would exotics require more pesticide use?”
5) “Save resources and encourage a sense of Stewardship.
Ok, now maybe we’re getting somewhere. Not sure why stewardship is capitalized here but if they mean a ‘sense of place’ or a ‘connection to the natural environment’ then I can buy it.”
If we ignore his dismissive remarks and look just at these statements, I think Bert has made valid points here. Don’t you?
So what can we learn from this hodgepodge?
1) Native plant enthusiasts need to pay attention to what’s going on in their own regions and participate in discussions about the need for natives in landscapes. Did anyone from WNPS attend Seattle’s open house meeting on their proposed regulations?
2) We all need to pay attention to online discussions and add our educated views in a civil manner.
3) We need to double check our online resources so people looking to pick apart the argument for natives won’t find any misstatements. As a result of this rowdy discussion, FNPS will be posting a piece on native plant myths on our blog and will also include this information on a permanent page on our website with links from several pages so our members and visitors will be more educated. We will also clean up our site so that leftover myths from earlier times are eliminated.
4) Maybe we need to find other arguments for using natives in our landscapes.*
If we do all this, maybe we can be thought of as serious, well-educated people who know what we are talking about. And what a force we could be!
* Other arguments
As for better arguments for natives-only landscaping, Steve Woodmansee, FNPS president, provided a link to this study: Marketing time predicts naturalization of horticultural plants.
“We analyzed a unique set of data derived from the detailed sales catalogs (1887–1930) of the most important early Florida, USA, plant nursery (Royal Palm Nursery) to detect naturalization patterns of these horticultural plants in the state. Of the 1903 nonnative species sold by the nursery, 15% naturalized. The probability of plants becoming naturalized increases significantly with the number of years the plants were marketed. Plants that became invasive and naturalized were sold for an average of 19.6 and 14.8 years, respectively, compared to 6.8 years for non-naturalized plants, and the naturalization of plants sold for 30 years or more is 70%.”
This study was in south Florida and may not hold for other areas of the country, but in looking at these numbers, maybe we should not be planting ANY non-natives because the vast majority could naturalize into natural areas.
There were only 30% that have not naturalized after 30 years! The sad thing is that these old horticultural plants were not vetted for invasiveness. I’m fairly sure we still are not doing an adequate job of vetting new ones.
So if you plant only natives, they might escape from your yard, but that’s okay; they belong there and you will not have harmed the environment.
Do No Harm!
It’s the best argument FOR regional natives and their increased use in the landscape, even urban and suburban landscapes.
© 2012, Ginny Stibolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.