Guest View: Going Native, Why and When to Choose Native Plants

ScottWrightadTOPGuest View:  dinos02sidelogo3Going Native, Why and When to Choose Native Plants

(Lucas Harrison-Zdenek, Ferndale Permaculture, June 15, 2016)

Going Native: Why and When to Choose Native Plants  Native Plants have been an important topic among gardeners for many years.  Recently, with the advent of the “green” movement, many non-professionals have  begun to take notice of topics like native plants, butterfly gardens, organic farming  and localized planting for both food and environmental stability.

Native plants have  taken up a specific niche in this new conversation because of the importance of  pollinators and a recent shift in how we think about our urban and suburban yard  spaces.  Landscaping has been a common practice for centuries.

ChamberAd_01Well trimmed hedges and  even green lawns have adorned manors and homes going all the way back to the  1600s in England when creeping thyme was used as an even, soft ground cover to  create a “lawn”. Creating a space that is functional as well as beautiful is where  native plants become important. A native plant is one that, while not always  originating from the geographical area, has been in a location for a very long time  and provides many important services for other plants, insects and animals.

Native  plants are usually not invasive, although that isn’t always the case. They usually  have multiple functions within the larger ecosystem. One important function is  adaptation. Native plants are most often well adapted for their specific environment  and, by thriving, perform every other function very well.

I have chosen seven native plants that perform many different functions in garden16_angela_fisherour  southeast Michigan environment. Each one has several different uses and  characteristics. What we find most in common between them is that they help to  stabilize the ecosystem around them. This list is simply a start. There are many,  many more to choose from. The Native Plant Nursery in Ann Arbor has compiled a  larger database for our area. Their website was my primary inspiration for the  choices in the following article.

Yarrow – Usually used medicinally, Yarrow is also an incredible companion to any  garden. It repels harmful insects and attracts helpful ones, like predatory wasps.  This plant also attracts ladybugs, which help many other garden plants by eating  aphids.

Wild Strawberry – Wild strawberries are among the sweetest variety of strawberry.  They are perennial, so no need to replant year after year. The flowers bloom early,  are plentiful once the plants are mature, and pollinators love them.

Chazzano03Milkweed – We all know that milkweed is a “must-have” garden plant because of the  Ferndale Monarch Project’s efforts in raising awareness of the plight of the Monarch  butterfly. This “weed” is perennial and blooms in late summer, usually pink but  some varieties are orange or yellow-orange. The milkweed plant is the only plant  that a monarch will lay eggs on. The hatched larvae also consume the plant before  metamorphosing into a butterfly.

Beebalm – Also called Wild Bergamot, this herb is excellent for a number of  medicinal uses, like tea for headaches. It also attracts many native and non-native  pollinating insects as well as hummingbirds. It is an excellent companion to plant  with yellow coneflower and anise hyssop.

Black-eyed susan – In the same family as the coneflower, the black-eyed susan  carries many of the same healthful and pollinator-attracting characteristics as  Echinacea. These flowers are a different in a few ways. The yellow petals can be  used to make dyes, the root has been used to treat earaches, and the plant can also  be used as a diuretic for urinary issues. In addition to medicinal uses, the plant is  beautiful and can be grown in pretty much any kind of soil. There are even a few  vining varieties of this flower that will grow up a trellis like clematis.  SCOTT WRIGHT 02 _ JENNIFER STILLWAGON

Coneflower – Echinacea is a powerful plant in herbal medicine. While it is commonly  used to fight infections and cold symptoms, it has also been known to act as an anti-  inflammatory. The domed flowers appear in late summer and last through the fall,  making this a must have in any butterfly garden to feed those latecomers. The petals  fall off and the central dome goes to seed and feeds finches and chickadees through  the winter.

Wild columbine – Sometimes called “Little Lanterns”, because of the way the  blossoms grow, the Columbine contains plenty of nectar, which is sought by both  hummingbirds and butterflies. Depending on the source, this plant is found to be a  perennial or a self-seeding plant, which isn’t exactly the same as being a “perennial”,  but it does mean that they don’t have to be replanted every year. As an early spring  flower, these are excellent food for the emergence of bees. The blossoms are also  edible for human consumption and can be added to salads.

In spite of how tempting it may be to jump on the native plant bandwagon and  attempt to replace all your plantings with natives, remember that well-adjusted  non-native plants have a place as well. In Schrock2015_ad_twocitiesmany cases non-native plants can harbor  as many or more species of beneficial insect and animal as their native counterparts.  Like everything in the natural world, it is about balance. If we went with native-only  plantings, vegetable gardens would be quite bare in Michigan.

Similarly, as I  mentioned before, some native species in the wrong kind of environment, can  actually become invasive because they have no natural predators. Balance is the key  to a happy and healthy ecosystem full of happy and healthy plants, insects, and  animals.

For more info on gardening, planting, ecosystems, and sustainability, find me on  Facebook or join my local group, Ferndale Permaculture.

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